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The Social Media Reader * 

T^-JJ^i Edited by 

Qy>5lt€ Michael Mandiberg 

The Social Media Reader 

This page intentionally left blank 

The Social Media Reader 


Michael Mandiberg 



New York and London 

New York and London 

© 2012 by New York University 
All rights reserved 

Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license 


References to Internet websites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor New York 
University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

The social media reader / edited by Michael Mandiberg. 

p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-0-8147-6405-3 (cl : alk. paper) 

ISBN 978-0-8147-6406-0 (pb : alk. paper) 

ISBN 978-0-8147-6407-7 (ebook) 

ISBN 978-0-8147-6302-5 (ebook) 

1. Social media. 2. Technological innovations — Social aspects. 

I, Mandiberg, Michael. 

HM742.S6284 2012 

302.23'i — dc23 2011038308 

The following work bears Create Commons Attribution (CC BY) license: 
"Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and the Emergence of Sharing 
as a Modality of Economic Production" by Yochai Benkler 

The following works bear Create Commons Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license: 

"The People Formerly Known as the Audience" by Jay 

"Open Source as Culture/Culture as Open Source" by 
Siva Vaidhyanathan 
"What Is Web 2.0?" by Tim O'Reilly 
"What Is Collaboration Anyway?" by Adam Hyde, 
Mike Linksvayer, kanarinka, Michael Mandiberg, Marta 
Peirano, Sissu Tarka, Astra Taylor, Alan Toner, and 
Mushon Zer-Aviv 

"Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle" by danah boyd 
"From Indymedia to Demand Media: Journalism's 
Visions of Its Audience and the Horizons of Democ- 
racy" by C. W. Anderson 

"Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls and the Politics of Trans- 
gression and Spectacle" by E. Gabriella Coleman 
"The Language of Internet Memes" by Patrick Davison 
"The Long Tail" by Chris Anderson 

"REMIX: How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law" 
by Lawrence Lessig 

"Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny" by Fred Von Lohmann 
"On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom" 
by Fred Benenson 

"Giving Things Away Is Hard Work: Three Creative 
Commons Case Studies on DIY" by Michael Mandiberg 
"Gin, Television, and Social Surplus" by Clay Shirky 
"Between Democracy and Spectacle: The Front-End and 
Back-End of the Social Web" by Felix Stalder 
"DIY Academy? Cognitive Capitalism, Humanist 
Scholarship, and the Digital Transformation" by Ashley 

The following work bears Creative Commons Attribu- 
tion Noncommercial ShareAlike 
(CC BY-NC-SA) license: 
"Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?" by Henry Jenkins 

New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their binding materials are chosen 
for strength and durability We strive to use environmentally responsible suppliers and materials to the 
greatest extent possible in publishing our books. 

Manufactured in the United States of America 

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Acknowledgments ix 

Introduction 1 

Michael Mandiberg 


i The People Formerly Known as the Audience 13 

Jay Rosen 

2 Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and the Emergence 17 
of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production 

Yochai Benkler 

3 Open Source as Culture/Culture as Open Source 24 

Siva Vaidhyanathan 

4 What Is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models 32 
for the Next Generation of Software 

Tim O'Reilly 

5 What Is Collaboration Anyway? 53 

Adam Hyde, Mike Linksvayer, kanarinka, 
Michael Mandiberg, Marta Peirano, Sissu Tarka, 
Astra Taylor, Alan Toner, Mushon Zer-Aviv 


6 Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle 71 

danah boyd 

7 From Indymedia to Demand Media: Journalisms Visions 77 
of Its Audience and the Horizons of Democracy 

C. W. Anderson 


8 Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls: The Politics of 99 
Transgression and Spectacle 

E. Gabriella Coleman 

9 The Language of Internet Memes 120 

Patrick Davison 


10 The Long Tail 137 

Chris Anderson 


11 REMIX: How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law 155 

Lawrence Lessig 

12 Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 170 

Fred von Lohmann 

13 On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom 178 

Fred Benenson 

14 Giving Things Away Is Hard Work: Three Creative 187 
Commons Case Studies 

Michael Mandiberg 


15 Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars 7 . Grassroots Creativity 203 
Meets the Media Industry 

Henry Jenkins 


16 Gin, Television, and Social Surplus 236 

Clay Shirky 

17 Between Democracy and Spectacle: The Front-End and 242 
Back-End of the Social Web 

Felix Stalder 

18 DIY Academy? Cognitive Capitalism, Humanist Scholarship, 257 
and the Digital Transformation 

Ashley Dawson 

About the Contributors 275 

Index 279 


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First and foremost, I thank the many authors who contributed to this 
volume. I thank both those who created new essays and those who gave their 
works a Creative Commons license that permitted me to use them here. If it 
were not for the freedom offered by these freely licensed texts, I would never 
have had the ability or inspiration to take on this project. Thank you for sharing. 

I conceived of this anthology while preparing a seminar on social media. 
The absence of any critical anthology prompted me to collect the writings 
that I thought were most important. The realization that many of these were 
Creative Commons licensed inspired me to transform this reading list into a 
table of contents for this book. I wish to thank the Department of Media Cul- 
ture at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, for its sup- 
port of this project: C. W. Anderson, Cynthia Chris, Jeanine Corbet, David 
Gerstner, Janet Manfredonia, Tara Mateik, Edward D. Miller, Sherry Millner, 
Jason Simon, Matthew Solomon, Valerie Tevere, Cindy Wong, Bilge Yesil, and 
Ying Zhu. I am indebted to my colleagues at the CUNY Graduate Center: 
Steve Brier, Ashley Dawson, and Matthew Gold. I am grateful to the provost, 
William J. Fritz, for the support of the Provosts Research Grant and to Dean 
Christine Flynn Saulnier and former dean Francisco Soto for their support of 
my research leaves and for the Dean's Summer Research Assistantship. 

I edited this anthology during a leave as a senior fellow at Eyebeam Cen- 
ter for Art and Technology, and I am deeply indebted to Eyebeam for the 
material support for this period of research and for the context from which 
to produce such a collection. Amanda McDonald Crowley offered me such 
a generous period of serious creative research, and Steve Lambert constantly 
pushed me to live, act, and create in line with my beliefs. I want to thank 
everyone at Eyebeam, including Ayah Bdeir, Jacob Ciocci, Jon Cohrs, Sarah 
Cook, Jeff Crouse, Patrick Davison, Jennifer Dopazo, Stephen Duncombe, 
Clara Jo, John Johnson, Simon Jolly, Emma Lloyd, Qimei Luo, Marisa Olson, 
Stephanie Pereira, Marc Schiller, Roddy Schrock, Brooke Singer, Marko 
Tandefelt, and Addie Wagenknecht. 

Adam Hyde, Mike Linksvayer, kanarinka, Marta Peirano, Sissu Tarka, 
Astra Taylor, Alan Toner, and Mushon Zer-Aviv have been inspirational past 
and future collaborators. Grace M. Cho, Cynthia Chris, Mary Flanagan, Alex 
Galloway, Tiffany Holmes, and Marita Sturken provided invaluable guidance 
on the practicalities of publishing. Many thanks to my editors, Eric Zinner 
and Ciara McLaughlin, who saw the merits in this project. 

Thanks to Creative Commons for creating the legal framework that has 
made this collection possible: Lawrence Lessig for making this kind of shar- 
ing conceivable and for sharing his own work, Fred Benenson for being a 
personal inspiration for my own engagement with this process, and Mike 
Linksvayer again, though this time in his role at Creative Commons, where 
he provided information and references about Creative Commons licenses. 

Many thanks always to Sherry Millner, Ernie Larsen, and Nadja Millner- 
Larsen, xtine burrough, Stephen Mandiberg, Joseph Mandiberg, and Linda 




Beginning with the printing press, technological innovations have 
enabled the dissemination of more and more media forms over broader 
and broader audiences. This mass media built and maintained a unidirec- 
tional relationship between a few trained professional media producers and 
many untrained media consumers. This model, which reached its peak in the 
middle to late twentieth century, began to shift in the 1980s with the wide- 
spread use of photocopiers, home video cameras, and mixtapes and evolved 
further with desktop publishing, home computing, and increased Internet 
access. By the early 2000s, the cost of computers, software, and Internet 
access decreased, allowing individuals access to the same tools of produc- 
tion used by professionals. In this period, new media forms such as blogs 
and social networking sites have focused squarely on active audience partici- 
pation, uprooting the established relationship between media producer and 
media consumer. At the end of this first decade of the twenty- first century, 
the line between media producers and consumers has blurred, and the uni- 
directional broadcast has partially fragmented into many different kinds of 
multidirectional conversations. 

Access to tools and the invention of new media forms allow formerly 
passive media consumers to make and disseminate their own media. New 
technological frameworks have arisen that center on enabling this media 
creation: message boards, audience- driven review sites, blogs and comment 
systems, photo- and video-sharing websites, social networks, social news 
sites, bookmark-sharing sites, and microblogging platforms, to name some 
of the more prominent ones. These new frameworks have become more and 
more focused on enabling media creation, as this so-called amateur media 
becomes the raison d'etre of these very professional media organizations. 
These sites are pointless without audience participation: from the audience's 
perspective, in order to experience the site you have to become a media pro- 
ducer, and from the organizations' perspective, without audience production 
their sites will fail. These media forms include a spectrum of engagement 

from elaborate videos uploaded to YouTube to a simple "like" on Facebook. 
While old forms coexist with these new audience-driven forms and hybrids 
of the two, media participation is now part of media consumption. 

Despite the widespread participant engagement and scholarly interest in 
this phenomenon, it has no definitive name. It has been given many names, a 
selection of the most prevalent of which include the corporate media favorite 
"user-generated content," Henry Jenkins's media-industries-focused "conver- 
gence culture," Jay Rosens "the people formerly known as the audience," the 
politically infused "participatory media," Yochai Benkler's process-oriented 
"peer production," and Tim O'Reilly's computer-programming-oriented 
"Web 2.0." Each of these terms defines one separate aspect of the phenom- 
enon and does so from the specific point of view of the different actors in 
this system. In order to understand the system as a whole, it is necessary to 
understand each of these separate terms and the perspective it comes from. 

"User-generated content" stands out in this list of terms, as it refers to the 
material product, not the tools or process of this product's creation; it does 
address the author but only as an effect of its focus on the product, and it 
seems to retain a vision of a passive audience in which the users who are 
generating the content are not synonymous with the audience as a whole but 
are merely individual members of the audience that step into an intermedi- 
ate role. This corporate term is very popular with commercial media organi- 
zations looking to explain their business plans to investors, but it is reviled 
by many of these so-called users, foregrounding a general conflict over the 
line in the sand between amateurs and professionals. Derek Powazek decon- 
structs the term in his 2006 post "Death to User-Generated Content": 

User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie. 

Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot. 

Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts. 

So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with 
packing peanuts. Lovely. 1 

He then proposes yet another term for the phenomenon, "authentic 
media." His deconstruction is intentionally cartoonish, but it expresses its 
point: the term is machine-like and disregards the personal nature of the 
media these individuals are creating. 

As Henry Jenkins has argued in Convergence Culture, these new media 
forms converge with existing forms and with the media industries built around 
those forms, in an often uneasy coexistence. 2 These inversions of the tradi- 


tional amateur/professional dialectic blur clearly defined author and audience 
roles. Powazek's critique is rooted in a proindividual, anticorporate ethos that 
privileges the authenticity of the individual amateur creator, but four years 
after his post, professional content has become a much larger part of the social 
media ecosystem. One marker of this transition is the makeup of the all-time 
most viewed videos on YouTube: in July 2010 only three of the top-twenty 
videos were nonprofessional, and the majority of the professional videos were 
studio-produced, high-budget music videos added to the site in the previous 
eighteen months. This inversion is well represented by "Lonelygirli5," a series 
of amateur- style videos of a fictional teenage girl named Bree; though the main 
character was played by an actor, led by a team of independent directors/pro- 
ducers, for the first four months the YouTube channel claimed the videos to be 
the authentic work of a individual amateur. 3 The goal for many of these media 
creators, including the creators of "Longelygirli5," is to become professionals 
through their amateur participation in these social media platforms. 

Jay Rosen has theorized this phenomenon as a shift in audience and has 
contextualized this shift in terms of democratic theory. In his blog post of 
the same name, he speaks in the voice of "the people formerly known as the 
audience," who want to announce their active presence to the media and to 
let the media know that they are not going away (see Rosen, chapter 1 in this 
volume). Rosen closes his missive with a warning from "the people formerly 
known as the audience" that they are not just "eyeballs" that can be owned. 
Rather than thinking of "the people formerly known as the audience" as a 
market, Rosen wants the media to think of them as the public made real; in 
referring to the public, and the political processes that it implies, Rosen is 
engaging the same principles behind the term "participatory media." "Par- 
ticipatory media," and the closely related "citizen journalism," focus on news 
reporting and the political power involved with destabilizing the one-direc- 
tional broadcast from a reporter to an audience into a multivoiced conversa- 
tion among participants. 4 In discussions of "participatory media," participa- 
tion in the media-creation process is often correlated with participation in 
the political process. Yochai Benkler's term "peer production" refers to the 
collaborative process of creating media over software-mediated platforms of 
the networked information economy, such as Wikipedia, Digg, and Slash- 
dot. 5 Benkler's focus is on the process itself, including the presence of socially 
or technologically mediated rules and the possibility that these new pro- 
cesses are inherently more democratic. 

The term "Web 2.0" is derived from O'Reilly Media's Web 2.0 Confer- 
ence, first held in 2004. Tim O'Reilly, in his follow-up article "What Is Web 

Introduction 3 

2.o?" defines "Web 2.0" as an upgraded computer-programming model that 
has enabled a set of participatory websites built on lightweight server-based 
applications that move rich data across platforms. The dense computer-pro- 
gramming jargon in this last sentence highlights the industry white-paper 
origins of the term. The term "Web 2.0" describes the tools for making this 
new media; it does not address the process, product, author, or audience. 
Though it was coined to describe a specific type of web programming, its 
prevalence outside the coterie of geeks shows how influential the term has 
become. This popular buzzword has been widely adopted by the market- 
ing departments of Internet startups (supplanting the tainted "dot-com"), 
media outlets, and academics analyzing the phenomenon. In the process, 
the term has lost its tether to the web -programming models it espoused and 
has become just as closely linked to a design aesthetic and a marketing lan- 
guage. Emptied of its referent, it is an empty signifier: it is a brand. The many 
"Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator" web pages are poignant critiques of Web 2.0 
as brand. 6 These simple applications generate random short sets of Web 2.0 
terms. These phrases, such as "reinvent rss-capable communities," "incentiv- 
ize citizen-media blogospheres," and "beta-test embedded wikis," combine 
these buzzwords to create meaningless, but convincing, marketing materials 
for a hypothetical Web 2.0 site. The phrases seem to work by deploying the 
signs of hip inclusive social-medianess, and yet they don't actually mean any- 
thing: they are the manifestation of Web 2.0 as branding material. 

Each of these terms encapsulates a different aspect of, and comes from 
the different perspectives of the multiple actors of, the phenomenon of social 
media. This book uses the term "social media," both in the title and in this 
introduction. The goal of this book is not to argue for the term "social media" 
at the expense of all these other terms. The goal of this book is to bring 
examples from the multiple disciplines, perspectives, and agendas into one 
space. "Social media" is a broad enough term that it can encompass, while 
preserving, each of these perspectives and their respective terms. 

The essays in this book are divided into six thematic parts: "Mechanisms," 
"Sociality," "Humor," "Money," "Law," and "Labor." The one question that runs 
through every one of these essays is whether social media is a good thing: 
is it beneficial for democracy, culture, law, labor, and creative expression? 
The field of technology studies asks this question of every new technology; 
the implicit and explicit answers to this question often veer to the extremes 
of techno-utopia and techno-dystopia, and social media is no exception. 
Notable examples at the extreme ends of this dialectic include beatific works 
like What Would Google Do? 7 which walks through the hypothetical appli- 


cation wisdom of crowds-based algorithms to every possible area of society, 
to predictions of social destruction in works like The Cult of the Amateur: 
How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture. 8 While all the essays in this book 
address this theme in some way some focus on it more than others. The hope 
for sharing, expression, and the power of new web tools appears strongest in 
the writings of Chris Anderson, Tim O'Reilly, Jay Rosen, and Clay Shirky 
Conversely, C. W. Anderson, Ashley Dawson, Henry Jenkins, and Felix 
Stalder argue that the unfettered information flow, without the means to con- 
trol it, turns into a spectacle that does anything but build meaningful politi- 
cal, social, or labor relationships between individuals. 

The essays in part 1 provide analyses of the technical and social practices 
that lay the groundwork for social media. As discussed earlier, Jay Rosen 
speaks in the voice of "the people formerly known as the audience," who 
wish for the media makers to know that they exist and are not going away. In 
doing so, Rosen highlights the change in audience participation, with is the 
central shift in social practices; this social shift is enabled by technical shifts 
that are discussed by Tim O'Reilly. Yochai Benkler theorizes the social prac- 
tice of sharing, a fundamental requirement for social media. Benkler offers 
models for what can be shared and asserts that these sharing economies can 
self-organize the use of these surpluses better than an exchange economy can. 
Siva Vaidhyanathan charts the cultural influence of the open-source software 
model, touching on the power of copyrights and alternative licenses, which 
is discussed at length in the section on the law. Tim O'Reilly describes the 
software models that have enabled the creation of social media platforms. As 
described earlier, a change in software- development practices, from isolated 
desktop application to a collaborative web-based platform, defines Web 2.0. 
In the collaboratively written essay "What Is Collaboration?," Adam Hyde, 
Mike Linksvayer, kanarinka, Marta Peirano, Sissu Tarka, Astra Taylor, Alan 
Toner, Mushon Zer-Aviv, and I trace the contours and processes of collabo- 
ration from the weak associations to the strong bonds. 9 The essay argues that 
sharing is a necessary precondition for collaboration but that strong collabo- 
ration requires intentionality and coordination. 

Part 2 addresses how social media changes the social dynamics of its par- 
ticipants, danah boyd weighs the merits of being perpetually connected to 
a wireless network, and the information overload and responsibility that 
results from the deluge of information, boyd accepts the negative aspects of 
being always on in exchange for the positives, as many of us do, though psy- 
chologists and neuroscientists are beginning to reach different conclusions. 10 
C. W Anderson looks at journalism's changing perception of its audience and 

Introduction 5 

how that reflects both journalism's and the audience's relationship to democ- 
racy. The rise of the algorithmic journalism performed by content farms may 
satisfy the search-query-based needs of its readership, but it undermines the 
democratic effect of journalism. 

"Lulz" is the term of choice to describe the pleasure of the ends-justify- 
the-means pranks and humor that pervades chatrooms and image boards. 
E. Gabriella Coleman traces an alternate genealogy of hackers that does not 
start at MIT and end with open-source software but, rather, moves from 
phone phreakers through countercultural politics and ends with "Anony- 
mous," the lulz-seeking Internet trolls on 4chan's infamous lb I board. This 
alternate history presents a subculture of computer hackers birthed out- 
side the university and invested in politics and transgression. Patrick Davi- 
son traces the evolution of the meme from its origins in Richard Dawkins's 
writings on evolutionary biology to the fast- track transformations of Inter- 
net memes on the anonymous image boards of 4chan. For Davison, the key 
to the success of Internet memes and their generative nature is the explicit 
removal of authorship, which he calls the "nonattribution meme." 

In most histories, the Internet began as a self-defense mechanism for com- 
municating during a nuclear war. 11 In the late '80s and early '90s it became a 
haven for academics, geeks, and other subcultures of the command line. By 
the mid-'90S money and profit had taken over; the dot-com bubble and crash, 
the current Web 2.0 balloon, and the Great Recession have marked the Inter- 
net alternately as a profit machine and an epic failure as such. Though money 
appears at the edges of many of the essays here as an explicit goal, a constrain- 
ing factor, or an effect to be eliminated, Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" takes 
it on directly, identifying one of the new business models of online retailers. 
These retailers stock inventories many times larger than those of brick-and- 
mortar stores. These long-tail businesses manage to make money off books, 
records, and other goods that were much too obscure for any previous retailer 
to stock, leading to a previously unimaginable number of audience choices. 
On the flip side, recent studies suggest that, though these businesses can profit 
from selling a very small amount of media objects from each of a very large 
number of creators, those creators may be worse off in this new system. 12 Other 
repercussions reverberate from these shifts in what we value and how we value 
it — including Anderson's exploration of free (as in beer) services in his book 
Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business — the exponential growth in the cost 
of unique objects, and the rise of real economies for virtual goods. 13 

Lawrence Lessig and Fred von Lohmann address the way that the law 
impacts the creation of social media. Lessig's essay describes a shift in how 


our culture writes, and the way that copyright law is at odds with this shift. 
Lessig compellingly argues that "writing" has evolved to include sound and 
moving image but that the copyright law governing writing has not evolved 
to reflect this cultural shift. This conflict between social practice and legal 
precedent criminalizes these new forms of expression. Lessig calls for legal 
reform and for the embrace of the licenses created by Creative Commons, an 
organization he helped found. Creative Commons licenses allow creators to 
exercise the rights guaranteed to them under their copyright: instead of "all 
rights reserved," these works have "some rights reserved." This book and all 
its essays are Creative Commons licensed. Fred von Lohmann approaches 
this legal conflict by looking at the different way the Digital Millennium 
Copyright Act (DMCA) treats these new forms of expression and how 
that affects their transmission. Existing laws governing non-Internet-based 
media distribution allow large monetary penalties for breaking "strict liabil- 
ity" copyright law, preventing the distribution of works that relies on fair-use 
provisions, unless the creator can prove compliance before distribution. The 
DMCA has a safe-harbor provision that allows sites like YouTube to pub- 
lish these works and requires them to maintain a mechanism to adjudicate 
claims by copyright holders after distribution. This has allowed an explosion 
of online content and has allowed some creators to identify who is not going 
to sue them, but it has also led to massive removals of media from sites such 
as YouTube. Fred Benenson and I consider the shifts in ideology and meth- 
odology when applying these licenses to cultural works. Benenson looks at 
the intricacies of applying software-derived free-culture ideology to non- 
fungible creative works. In arguing that not all cultural works should have 
the same license, Benenson identifies a key difference between the utilitarian 
software tools that pioneered these license models and nonfungible works 
that are not intended to be further modified. Extending this discussion, I 
present three case studies that explore the failures and successes of applying 
open-source methodologies to Creative Commons-licensed noncode proj- 
ects. Though this process takes its cues from software development, the arts 
and design communities have a different set of challenges in the process of 
creating peer-produced works. 

The creation of a participatory audience foregrounds labor dynamics; 
when an audience participates in creating the media that it consumes, it links 
audience dynamics and labor relations and sometimes renders them inter- 
changeable. Though these labor dynamics are more central in social media's 
production model, they are not new. Henry Jenkins has written extensively 
about fan culture and the tensions between creative fans and the proprietary 

Introduction 7 

media empires they are fanatical about. In his essay here, which comes from 
his book Convergence Culture, Jenkins articulates some of the pitfalls of fan 
culture online and the instability of the trust between creative Star Wars fans 
and LucasArts' wavering support for fan fiction online. Clay Shirky consid- 
ers the untold possibilities of our coming cognitive surplus. Cognitive sur- 
plus is the excess thought power available to society when we convert passive 
spectatorship into participation in social media. To put this massive capacity 
in context, the amount of time it has taken to create the entirety of Wikipedia 
is one hundred million hours, which is equivalent to the amount of time the 
population of the United States spends watching advertisements on televi- 
sion on any one weekend. Shirky sees this cognitive surplus, released from 
the drudgery of passive spectatorship, as a force (a workforce) that will trans- 
form media and society in ways we cannot yet conceive. Conversely, Felix 
Stalder considers the pitfalls of how our labor accumulates in databases and 
server farms. Stalder articulates how our labor is often exploited by the "sur- 
veillance economy" of analytics software and server logs. Lastly, Ashley Daw- 
son self-reflexively returns us to the very enterprise of this book: academic 
publishing. Starting from a letter from his editor at University of Michigan 
Press announcing its digital publication initiative, Dawson asks whether the 
shift to digitally published scholarship and other forms of computational- 
ism can really provide an escape from the dystopian reality of contemporary 
academic labors reduced budgets, informal labor exacerbated by the asym- 
metry of power-law relationships, pressures of publishing conglomerates 
exacted through journal subscriptions, and the outcomes-focused mandate 
on professors to publish or perish. Dawson does see potential in some initia- 
tives but warns that academics are unprepared for digital transformations. 
He emphasizes that technology, without changing the social context of its 
implementation, merely reinforces existing inequalities. 

The process by which this book was created could never have happened 
without the use of social media as a tool for creation. Most of the essays in 
this volume exist on the Internet in one form or another; they are included 
here by virtue of their Creative Commons licenses. It is because these works 
have been licensed with free-culture licenses that I can bring them together 
in this collection, excerpting a few, editing others for print, and remix- 
ing Lessig's Remix talk into a written essay. In other cases, I was able to ask 
authors to extend shorter blog posts or to codify informal presentations doc- 
umented by online video. The print form of these digital texts is but one of 
their transformations, transformations that you, the people formerly known 
as the audience, are free to continue: it is social media after all. 


Copyright and licensing is powerful but never simple: the chapters in this 
book are mostly licensed with Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) licenses, 14 
and after a thorough discussion, NYU Press agreed to license the book with an 
Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. 15 You are free 
to transmit the whole book, to remix the book, to abridge or amend the book 
with more essays, or to translate the whole book into other languages or other 
media platforms, so long as you do so for noncommercial purposes and the 
work retains this same license. As each individual chapter has a license that per- 
mits commercial use, you can use all the chapters except this introduction and 
Henry Jenkins' chapter in any of the aforementioned ways, without the restric- 
tion on commercial use. You may use the Jenkins chapter, the title of the book, 
and this introduction for noncommercial uses. What form will your remix take? 


i. Derek Powazek, "Death to User-Generated Content," Powazek: Just a Thought (blog), 
April 4, 2006, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

2. Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: 
NYU Press, 2006). 

3. Miles Beckett, Mesh Flinders, and Greg Goodfried, "Lonelygirhs's Channel," You- 
Tube, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

4. Dan Gillmor, We the Media (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2004); Derrick Jensen, The 
Immediast Underground Pamphlet Series: Seizing the Media (New York: Immediast Interna- 
tional, 1992), available online at (accessed January 30, 2011). 

5. Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets 
and Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). 

6. The most blogged example is "Bullshitr," (accessed 
July 20, 2010). 

7. Jeff Jarvis, What Would Google Do? (New York: HarperBusiness, 2009). 

8. Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture 
(New York: Crown Business, 2007). 

9. For more on the "Collaborative Futures" process, see Adam Hyde et al., "How This 
Book Is Written," in Collaborative Futures,, 
laborativefutures/about-this-book/ (accessed July 20, 2010). 

10. Matt Richtel, "Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime," New York 
Times, August 24, 2010, 
(accessed August 31, 2010). 

11. Roy Rosenzweig, "Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors and Hackers: Writing the History 
of the Internet" American Historical Review, December 1998, available online at http:// 

12. Krzysztof Wiszniewski, "The Paradise That Should Have Been," The Cynical Musi- 
cian (blog), January 21, 2010, 
should-have-been/ (accessed July 20, 2010). 

Introduction 9 

13. James Gleick, "Keeping It Real," New York Times, January 6, 2008; Julian Dib- 
bell, "The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer," New York Times, June 17, 2007, http://www. (accessed July 20, 2010). 

14. Yochai Benkler's chapter is licensed with an Attribution license, and Henry Jenkins's 
chapter is licensed with an Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike license. 

15. Please see for more information and the full 
text of these licenses. Because this is a collection of independent works, the ShareAlike 
licenses on those works do not trigger copyleft, allowing the Noncommercial license on 
the collection. As per all Noncommercial licenses, commercial rights can be licensed 
from the publisher. 




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The People Formerly 
Known as the Audience 


That's what I call them. Recently I received this statement. 

The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people 
of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift 
you've all heard about. 

Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing 
readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listen- 
ers who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means 
to speak — to the world, as it were. 

Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many 
media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would 
speak, who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that? 

The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem — 
too many speakers! — is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still 
wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this: 

The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the 
receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, 
with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while 
the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another — and who 
today are not in a situation like that at all. 

• Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the 
blog, has given the press to us. That's why blogs have been called little 
First Amendment machines. 1 They extend freedom of the press to more 

• Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that 
brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more 
uses for it than you did. 


• Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. 
Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now 
video is coming into the user's hands, and audience-building by former mem- 
bers of the audience is alive and well on the web. 

• You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the 
front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own 
front pages. 2 

• A highly centralized media system had connected people "up" to big social 
agencies and centers of power but not "across" to each other. Now the hori- 
zontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one. 

The "former audience" is Dan Gillmor's term for us. 3 (He's one of our 
discoverers and champions.) It refers to the owners and operators of tools 
that were once exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their 

Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. "Give the 
people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don't give the people 
control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, 
they will." 4 

Look, media people. We are still perfectly content to listen to our radios 
while driving, sit passively in the darkness of the local multiplex, watch TV 
while motionless and glassy-eyed in bed, and read silently to ourselves as we 
always have. 

Should we attend the theater, we are unlikely to storm the stage for pur- 
poses of putting on our own production. We feel there is nothing wrong with 
old-style, one-way, top-down media consumption. Big Media pleasures will 
not be denied us. You provide them, we'll consume them, and you can have 
yourselves a nice little business. 

But we're not on your clock anymore. 5 Tom Curley, CEO of the Associ- 
ated Press, has explained this to his people. "The users are deciding what the 
point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, 
what place." 6 

We graduate from wanting media when we want it to wanting it with- 
out the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and 
broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun. 7 

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has a term for us: The 
Active Audience ("who doesn't want to just sit there but to take part, debate, 
create, communicate, share"). 8 


Another of your big shots, Rupert Murdoch, told American newspaper 
editors about us: "They want control over their media, instead of being con- 
trolled by it." 9 

Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, said it back in 1994: "Once 
the users take control, they never give it back." 10 

Online, we tend to form user communities around our favorite spaces. 
Tom Glocer, head of your Reuters, recognized it: "If you want to attract a 
community around you, you must offer them something original and of a 
quality that they can react to and incorporate in their creative work." 11 

We think you're getting the idea, media people. If not from us, then from 
your own kind describing the same shifts. 

The people formerly known as the audience would like to say a special 
word to those working in the media who, in the intensity of their commercial 
vision, had taken to calling us "eyeballs," as in: "There is always a new chal- 
lenge coming along for the eyeballs of our customers" (John Fithian, presi- 
dent of the National Association of Theater Owners in the United States). 12 

Or: "We already own the eyeballs on the television screen. We want to 
make sure we own the eyeballs on the computer screen" (Ann Kirschner, vice 
president for programming and media development for the National Foot- 
ball League). 13 

Fithian, Kirschner, and company should know that such fantastic delu- 
sions ("we own the eyeballs . . .") were the historical products of a media 
system that gave its operators an exaggerated sense of their own power and 
mastery over others. New media is undoing all that, which makes us smile. 14 

You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided 
into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new plat- 
form, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and 

The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made 
realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, 
media people. But whether you do or not, we want you to know we're here. 


1. Jay Rosen, "Bloggers vs. Journalists Is Over," lecture at the Blogging, Journalism 
& Credibility Conference, Harvard Berkman Center, Cambridge, MA, January 21, 2005, 
available online at (accessed 
January 30, 2011). 

2., "Help & FAQ," (accessed January 30, 2011). 

The People Formerly Known as the Audience 15 

3. Dan Gillmor, We the Media (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2004), accessed online at (accessed January 30, 2011). 

4. Jeffjarvis, "Argue with Me," BuzzMachine (blog), November 11, 2004, http://www. html#oo8464 (accessed January 30, 2011). 

5. Jay Rosen, "Web Users Open the Gates," Washington Post, June 19, 2006, http:// 
(accessed January 30, 2011). 

6. Tom Curley, keynote address at Online News Association Conference, Hol- 
lywood, CA, November 12, 2004, available online at http://conference.journalists. 
org/2004conference/archives/oooo79.php (accessed January 30, 2011). 

7. Leslie Walker, "In the Face of Catastrophe, Sites Offer Helping Hands," Washing- 
ton Post, September 4, 2005, 
cle/2005/o9/o3/AR2005090300226.html (accessed January 30, 2011); Freevlog, "Freevlog 
Tutorial," (no longer online). 

8. Mark Thompson, "BBC Creative Future: Mark Thompson's Speech in Full," Guard- 
ian, April 25, 2006, 
(accessed January 30, 2011). 

9. Rupert Murdoch, address at American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, 
DC, April 13, 2005, available online at 
(accessed January 30, 2011). 

10. Dave Winer, "Bill Gates vs. the Internet," DaveNet, October 18, 1994, http://script- (accessed January 30, 2011). 

11. Tom Glocer, "The Two-Way Pipe — Facing the Challenge of the New Content Cre- 
ators," address at Online Publisher's Association Global Forum, London, March 2, 2006, 
available online at 
(accessed January 30, 2011). 

12. Rick Lyman, "A Partly Cloudy Forecast for Theater Owners," New York Times, 
March 12, 2001, 
forecast-for-theater-owners.html (accessed January 30, 2011). 

13. Stuart Elliot, "Adding to the Annual Spectacle, NBC and the N.F.L. Take the 
Super Bowl to Cyberspace," New York Times, December 18, 1995, http://www.nytimes. 
take-super-bowl.html (accessed January 30, 2011). 

14. Vin Crosbie, "What Is 'New Media'?," Rebuilding Media (blog), Corante, April 27, 
(accessed January 30, 2011). 



Sharing Nicely 

On Shareable Goods and the Emergence of 
Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production 


The world's fastest supercomputer and the second-largest commuter 
transportation system in the United States function on a resource-manage- 
ment model that is not well specified in contemporary economics. Both 
SETI@home, a distributed computing platform involving the computers of 
over four million volunteers, and carpooling, which accounts for roughly 
one-sixth of commuting trips in the United States, rely on social relations 
and an ethic of sharing, rather than on a price system, to mobilize and allo- 
cate resources. Yet they coexist with, and outperform, price-based and gov- 
ernment-funded systems that offer substitutable functionality. Neither prac- 
tice involves public goods, network goods, or any other currently defined 
category of economically "quirky" goods as either inputs or outputs. PCs and 
automobiles are privately owned, rival goods, with no obvious demand-side 
positive returns to scale when used for distributed computing or carpool- 
ing. 1 The sharing practices that have evolved around them are not limited 
to tightly knit communities of repeat players who know each other well and 
interact across many contexts. They represent instances when social sharing 2 
is either utterly impersonal or occurs among loosely affiliated individuals 
who engage in social practices that involve contributions of the capacity of 
their private goods in patterns that combine to form large-scale and effective 
systems for provisioning goods, services, and resources. 

This chapter in its original form serves as the introduction to a longer 
essay that seeks to do two things. The first three parts of the full essay are 
dedicated to defining a particular class of physical goods as "shareable goods" 
that systematically have excess capacity and to combining comparative trans- 
action costs and motivation analysis to suggest that this excess capacity may 
better be harnessed through sharing relations than through secondary mar- 
kets. These first three parts extend the analysis I have performed elsewhere 


regarding sharing of creative labor, like free software and other peer produc- 
tion, 3 to the domain of sharing rival material resources in the production of 
both rival and nonrival goods and services. The characteristics I use to define 
shareable goods are sufficient to make social sharing and exchange of mate- 
rial goods feasible as a sustainable social practice. But these characteristics 
are neither absolutely necessary nor sufficient for sharing to occur. Instead, 
they define conditions under which, when goods with these characteristics 
are prevalent in the physical-capital base of an economy, it becomes feasible 
for social sharing and exchange to become more salient in the overall mix 
of relations of production in that economy. The fourth part of the full essay 
is then dedicated to explaining how my observation about shareable goods 
in the domain of physical goods meshes with the literature on social norms, 
social capital, and common property regimes, as well as with my own work 
on peer production. I suggest that social sharing and exchange is an underap- 
preciated modality of economic production, alongside price-based and firm- 
based market production and state-based production, 4 whose salience in the 
economy is sensitive to technological conditions. The last part explores how 
the recognition of shareable goods and sharing as a modality of economic 
production can inform policy. 

Shareable goods are goods that are (1) technically "lumpy" and (2) of 
"midgrained" granularity. By "lumpy" I mean that they provision functional- 
ity in discrete packages rather than in a smooth flow. A PC is "lumpy" in that 
you cannot buy less than some threshold computation capacity, but once you 
have provisioned it, you have at a minimum a certain amount of computa- 
tion, whether you need all of it or not. By "granularity" I seek to capture (1) 
technical characteristics of the functionality-producing goods, (2) the shape 
of demand for the functionality in a given society, and (3) the amount and 
distribution of wealth in that society. A particular alignment of these charac- 
teristics will make some goods or resources "midgrained," by which I mean 
that there will be relatively widespread private ownership of these goods and 
that these privately owned goods will systematically exhibit slack capacity 
relative to the demand of their owners. A steam engine is large grained and 
lumpy. An automobile or PC is midgrained in the United States, Europe, 
and Japan but large grained in Bangladesh. Reallocating the slack capacity 
of midgrained goods — say, excess computer cycles or car seats going from A 
to B — becomes the problem whose solution can be provided by secondary 
markets, sharing, or management. I offer reasons to think that sharing may 
have lower transaction costs, improve the information on which agents who 
own these resources act, and provide better motivation for clearing excess 


capacity. While economists might prefer to call these goods "indivisible" 
rather than "lumpy," that terminology is less intuitive to noneconomists, and, 
more importantly, it emphasizes a concern with how best to price capacity 
that is indivisible and coarsely correlated to demand, glossing over the way 
in which the granularity affects the pattern of distribution of investment in 
these goods in society. My own concern is how a particular subclass of indi- 
visible goods — those that are midgrained as I define them here — creates a 
feasibility space for social sharing rather than requiring a particular model 
of second-best pricing. While indivisibilities do create challenges for efficient 
pricing, in my analysis they create conditions in which social relations may 
provide a more efficient transactional framework to provision and exchange 
those goods than would the price system. 

In particular, both markets and managerial hierarchies require crisp spec- 
ification of behaviors and outcomes. Crispness is costly. It is not a character- 
istic of social relations, which rely on fuzzier definitions of actions required 
and performed, of inputs and outputs, and of obligations. Furthermore, 
where uncertainty is resistant to cost-effective reduction, the more textured 
(though less computable) information typical of social relations can provide 
better reasons for action than can the persistent (though futile) search for 
crisply computable courses of action represented by pricing or manage- 
rial commands. Moreover, social sharing can capture a cluster of social and 
psychological motivations that are not continuous with, and may even be 
crowded out by, the presence of money. Pooling large numbers of small-scale 
contributions to achieve effective functionality — where transaction costs 
would be high and per-contribution payments must be kept low — is likely 
to be achieved more efficiently through social sharing systems than through 
market-based systems. It is precisely this form of sharing — on a large scale, 
among weakly connected participants, in project-specific or even ad hoc 
contexts — that we are beginning to see more of on the Internet; that is my 
central focus. 

Social sharing and exchange is becoming a common modality of produc- 
ing valuable desiderata at the very core of the most advanced economies — in 
information, culture, education, computation, and communications sectors. 
Free software, distributed computing, ad hoc mesh wireless networks, and 
other forms of peer production offer clear examples of such large-scale, mea- 
surably effective sharing practices. I suggest that the highly distributed capi- 
tal structure 5 of contemporary communications and computation systems is 
largely responsible for the increased salience of social sharing as a modality 
of economic production in those environments. By lowering the capital costs 

Sharing Nicely 19 

required for effective individual action, these technologies have allowed vari- 
ous provisioning problems to be structured in forms amenable to decentral- 
ized production based on social relations, rather than through markets or 

My claim is not, of course, that we live in a unique moment of humanistic 
sharing. It is, rather, that our own moment in history suggests a more general 
observation: that the technological state of a society, particularly the extent 
to which individual agents can engage in efficacious production activities 
with material resources under their individual control, affects the opportuni- 
ties for, and hence the comparative prevalence and salience of, social, mar- 
ket (both price based and managerial), and state production modalities. The 
capital cost of effective economic action in the industrial economy shunted 
sharing to its peripheries — to households in the advanced economies and to 
the global economic peripheries that have been the subject of the anthropol- 
ogy of gift or common property regime literatures. The emerging restructur- 
ing of capital investment in digital networks — in particular, the phenomenon 
of user-capitalized computation and communications capabilities— is at least 
partly reversing that effect. Technology does not determine the level of shar- 
ing. But it does set threshold constraints on the effective domain of sharing 
as a modality of economic production. Within the domain of the feasible, the 
actual level of sharing practices will be culturally driven and cross-culturally 

The loose category of "social sharing" that I employ here covers a broad 
range of social phenomena. Carpooling can largely, though not exclusively, 
be explained in terms of instrumental exchange. Distributed computing proj- 
ects look like cases of mass altruism among strangers. What justifies bring- 
ing such diverse practices under one umbrella term is that they are instances 
of productive cooperation that are based neither on the price system nor on 
managerial commands. Given the focus of current policy debates on improv- 
ing the institutional conditions for market-based production of various 
desiderata, even at the expense of substitutable social practices, it becomes 
important to recognize the presence, sustainability, and relative efficiency of 
even a loosely defined broad alternative. 

Once we come to accept the economic significance of this cluster of 
social practices, we will have to turn to mapping internal variations and 
understanding their workings and relationships to each other as economic 
phenomena. Even from the relatively limited review I offer here, it is clear 
that social production covers different forms of motivation and organiza- 
tion. There are instrumental and noninstrumental motivations. Instrumen- 


tal motivations may, in turn, be material — the primary focus of the social 
norms, social capital, and common property regimes literatures — or social- 
relational — that is, focused on the production of relations of power within 
a society, a focus that has been central to the literature on the gift. 6 The gift 
literature, however, has meshed the instrumental production of social rela- 
tions with the noninstrumental, mystical, or religious nature of gift giving. 
This noninstrumental form of motivation — though from a very nonmysti- 
cal perspective — has also been the focus of the psychological literature on 
motivation crowding out. Understanding how the motivational and organi- 
zational forms of this modality operate will be important whether one seeks 
to engage in institutional design that takes into consideration the presence 
of social production as a potential source of welfare, or whether one is con- 
cerned with building a business model that harnesses the power of social 
production — be it for profit, like IBM's relationship with the GNU/Linux 
development community, or nonprofit, like NASA's relationship with the 
contributors to SETI@home. For now, however, all we need is to recognize 
that a broad set of social practices can be sustainable and efficient substitutes 
for markets, firms, and bureaucracies. 

The policy implications of recognizing the relative importance of shar- 
ing-based solutions to economic problems are significant. As we manage 
the transition to a networked information economy, we face diverse ques- 
tions regarding how best to regulate different areas of this economy: How 
should we regulate wireless communications systems? How should we regu- 
late music distribution? Should we regulate the design of computers to assure 
that they are not used to access cultural products without authorization? 
Usually these policy debates, to the extent they are concerned with efficiency 
and welfare, assume that the role of policy is to optimize the institutional 
conditions of attaching prices to marginal actions so as to permit the price 
system to be the dominant modality of production. This may or may not be 
wise, but whether it is or is not can only be examined thoughtfully once we 
have a full picture of the alternatives. If we believe that there are only two 
alternatives — the price system and some form of hierarchy — we have a very 
different policy-choice space than if we believe that there is a third modality 
of production open to us, social production, that may under certain condi- 
tions be more efficient. 

Radio and communications technologies have reached a point where our 
policy focus is changing. The Federal Communications Commission is creat- 
ing an institutional framework to facilitate markets in shareable goods — unli- 
censed wireless devices and systems— that coproduce wireless transport capac- 

Sharing Nicely 21 

ity. Originally, using such devices was prohibited in order to make the world 
safe for large-grained systems, like broadcast towers or cellular networks, that 
deliver wireless services on the basis of either the terms of a government license 
or markets in "spectrum." The music- copyright debate around peer-to-peer 
file sharing can also be explained in terms of the change in the type of goods 
used in distribution, from large-scale capital goods to midgrained shareable 
goods. Understood in these terms, solving this problem by squelching peer- 
to-peer sharing becomes implausible, both descriptively and prescriptively Yet 
current policy analysis largely disregards how institutional changes will affect 
existing or emerging practices of sharing that may compete with, or substitute 
for, market-based production. If indeed we live in an economic system made 
up of price-based, hierarchy-based, and sharing-based modalities of produc- 
tion, if it is true that optimizing our institutional system for price-based pro- 
duction undermines productivity in the sharing modality, and if it is true that 
our communications, computation, and information sectors are undergoing 
technological changes that improve the efficiency of social sharing, then we are 
making systematically mistaken policy choices not on the peripheries of our 
economies and societies but at their very engines. 


This chapter was first published as the introduction to Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods 
and the Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production, Yale Law Journal 114 
(2004): 273-358, available at (accessed July 20, 
2010). This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution license. 
I owe thanks to Bruce Ackerman, Ian Ayres, Bob Ellickson, Dan Kahan, Al Klevorick, 
Michael Levine, Orly Lobel, Daniel Markovits, Richard McAdams, Robert Post, Judith 
Resnik, Carol Rose, Susan Rose-Ackerman, Jed Rubenfeld, Alan Schwartz, Henry Smith, 
and Jim Whitman, who read prior versions of this essay and provided helpful comments. 

1. Computers as communications devices do have demand-side returns to scale, or 
network externalities. But as processing units, the paramount value of personal computers 
is the intrinsic value of their computation speed and memory, not the network externali- 
ties they enable owners to capture. SETI@home and other distributed computing projects 
harness these intrinsic -value aspects of personal computers rather than their capacities as 
communication devices. 

2. "Sharing" is an uncommon usage in the economics literature, though it is common 
in some of the anthropology literature. I choose it because it is broader in its application 
than other, more common, but narrower terms for associated phenomena — most impor- 
tantly, "reciprocity" or "gift." I hesitate to use "reciprocity" because of its focus on more or 
less directly responsive reciprocated reward and punishment as a mechanism to sustain 
cooperation in the teeth of the standard assumptions about collective action. See Dan M. 
Kahan, The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action, and Law (Yale Law Sch., Pub. 


Law Research Paper No. 31, and Yale Program for Studies in Law, Econ. & Pub. Policy, 
Research Paper No. 281, 2002), available at Given the 
presence of purely redistributive practices like tolerated theft and demand sharing in the 
anthropology literature, evidence of nonreciprocal prosocial behavior — see Bruno S. Frey 
& Stephan Meier, Pro-social Behavior, Reciprocity, or Both? (Inst, for Empirical Research 
in Econ., Univ. of Zurich, Working Paper No. 107, 2002) — and more generally our intui- 
tive experiences of acts of humanity toward others whom we will never encounter again, 
I suspect that some forms of redistribution are nonreciprocal except in the broadest sense 
of the reciprocation of living in a humane society. Mutual aid and cooperation without 
the possibility of reciprocal exchange likely exists, the "Lion and the Mouse" fable not- 
withstanding. See, e.g., James Woodburn, "Sharing Is Not a Form of Exchange": An Analysis 
of Property-Sharing in Immediate-Return Hunter-Gatherer Societies, in Property Relations: 
Renewing the Anthropological Tradition 48 (C. M. Hann ed., Cambridge Univ. Press 
1998). I hesitate to use the term "gift exchange" because the highly developed gift litera- 
ture (see note 6), has focused very heavily on the production and reproduction of social 
relations through the exchange and circulation of things. As will soon become clear, I am 
concerned with the production of things and actions/services valued materially, through 
nonmarket mechanisms of social sharing. "Sharing," then, offers a less freighted name for 
evaluating mechanisms of social-relations-based economic production. 

3. Yochai Benkler, Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm, 112 Yale L.J. 369 (2002). 

4. In this, my position tracks the tripartite mapping of the universe of organiza- 
tional forms that resulted from the work on nonprofits in the early 1980s. See Henry B. 
Hansmann, The Role of Nonprofit Enterprise, 89 Yale L.J. 835 (1980); see also Burton A. 
Weisbrod, The Nonprofit Economy 1-15 (1988); Susan Rose-Ackerman, Introduction, in 
The Economics of Nonprofit Institutions: Studies in Structure and Policy 3, 3-17 (Susan 
Rose-Ackerman ed., 1986). Unlike the nonprofit literature, my focus is not within the 
boundaries of firms — whether for profit or nonprofit — but on sharing among individuals 
in informal associations more resembling markets in the price-based economy than firms. 

5. This is different from capital intensity. The activity may be capital intensive — like 
distributed computing — when you consider the total capital cost of the computers, net- 
work connections, and so on required for an effective unit of production, in comparison 
to the cost of labor involved. The capital is, however, highly distributed, which is the key 
characteristic that enables individual agency in the production processes. 

6. The anthropological literature on sharing and the gift has been vast, starting with 
Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), and Marcel Mauss, The 
Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (Ian Cunnison trans., Free 
Press 1954) (1925). A combination of a broad intellectual history and a major contempo- 
rary contribution to this line is Maurice Godelier, The Enigma of the Gift (Nora Scott 
trans., Univ. of Chi. Press 1999) (1996). See also James G. Carrier, Property and Social 
Relations in Melanesian Anthropology, in Property Relations, supra note 2, at 85, 85-97 
(providing brief intellectual history of the literature); C. M. Hann, Introduction: The 
Embeddedness of Property, in Property Relations, supra note 2, at 1, 23-34 (same). As an 
alternative antithesis to the competition-of-all-against-all model of human society, an 
early manifestation of a focus on mutual aid and cooperation as a possible path for con- 
temporary societies was Petr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Extending 
Horizons Books 1955) (1902). 

Sharing Nicely 23 


Open Source as Culture/ 
Culture as Open Source 


The "open source" way of doing things is all the rage. Companies as 
powerful and established as IBM boast of using Linux operating systems in 
its servers. Publications as conservative as The Economist have pronounced 
open-source methods "successful" and have pondered their applicability to 
areas of research and development as different from software as pharmaceu- 
tical research. 1 

It is striking that we have to employ phrases like "open source" and "free 
software" at all. 2 They are significant, powerful phrases simply because they 
represent an insurgent model of commercial activity and information policy. 
They challenge the entrenched status quo: the proprietary model of cultural 
and technological production. 

But this has only recently been the case. The "open source" way is closer 
to how human creativity has always worked. Open source used to be the 
default way of doing things. The rapid adoption of proprietary information 
has been so intense and influential since the 1980s that we hardly remem- 
ber another way or another time. However, through most of human his- 
tory all information technologies and almost all technologies were "open 
source." And we have done pretty well as a species with tools and habits 
unencumbered by high restrictions on sharing, copying, customizing, and 

We have become so inured to the proprietary model, so dazzled and 
intimidated by its cultural and political power, that any commonsense chal- 
lenge to its assumptions and tenets seems radical, idealistic, or dangerous. 
But in recent years the practical advantages of the "open source" model of 
creativity and commerce have become clear. The resulting clamor about the 
advantages and threats of open-source models have revealed serious faults in 
the chief regulatory system that governs global flows of culture and informa- 
tion: copyright. 


The Rise of Proprietarianism 

Copyright gets stretched way out of shape to accommodate proprietary soft- 
ware. Copyright was originally designed to protect books, charts, and maps. 
Later, courts and legislatures expanded to include recorded music, film, 
video, translations, public performance, and finally all media that now exist 
or have yet to be created. Software is special, though. It's not just expression. 
It is functional. It's not just information. It's action. In some ways, the inclu- 
sion of software among the copyrightable forms of creativity has complicated 
and challenged the intellectual-property tradition. Copyright and proprie- 
tary software have metastasized synergistically 

The proprietary model of software production dates to sometime in the 
1970s, when mainframe software vendors like AT&T and Digital started 
asserting control over their source code, thus limiting what computer sci- 
entists could do to customize their tools. This was an insult to and offense 
against these scientists who were acclimated to the academic and scientific 
ideologies that privilege openness and nonmonetary reward systems. In a 
much more precise sense we can date the spark of the conflagration between 
the then-insurgent proprietary model and the then-dominant hacker culture 
(open source, although they didn't have a name for it then) to Bill Gates's 
1976 open letter to the small but growing community of personal-computer 
hackers warning them that his new company, then spelled "Micro-Soft," 
would aggressively assert its intellectual-property claims against those who 
would trade tapes that carry the company's software. Since that date, despite 
frequently exploiting the gaps and safety valves of copyright protection 
on their rise to the heights of wealth and power, Microsoft and Gates have 
worked in correlation if not coordination with the steady valorization of 
intellectual-property rights as the chief locus of cultural and industrial policy 
in the world. 3 

According to the proprietary ideology, innovation would not occur 
without a strong incentive system for the innovator to exploit for commer- 
cial gain. "Fencing off" innovations becomes essential for firms and actors 
to establish markets and bargain away rights. Because innovation so often 
concerns the ephemeral, trade in the innovation requires excluding others 
from using, exploiting, or copying data, designs, or algorithms. The Clinton, 
Bush, and Blair administrations in the United States and United Kingdom 
embraced the proprietary model as the key to thriving through the deindus- 
trialization of the developed world, thus locking in the advantages that edu- 
cated, wired nation-states have over those that have been held in technologi- 

Open Source as Culture/ Culture as Open Source 25 

cal and economic bondage for centuries. Proprietary models of innovation 
policy and market relations can be powerful: witness the remarkable suc- 
cesses and wealth of the global pharmaceutical industry or, for that matter, 
of Microsoft. But they can be just as powerful with limitations that allow for 
communal creation, revision, criticism, and adaptability: witness the culture 
of custom cars or the World Wide Web. 4 

In fact, as economist Richard Adkisson argues, the veneration of muscu- 
lar intellectual-property rights as the foundation of innovation and creativity 
above all other forms has generated an unhealthy cultural and social condi- 
tion, one which can generate suboptimal levels of investment, asset alloca- 
tion, and policy choices. Adkisson indicts the widespread belief that intellec- 
tual-property rights are the best (perhaps only) of all possible arrangements 
for innovation, by alerting us to the "ceremonial status" these rights have 
assumed. "Ceremonial encapsulation occurs when ceremonial values are 
allowed to alter or otherwise limit the application of technologies instru- 
mental in the process of social problem solving," Adkisson writes. Specifi- 
cally, Adkisson warns that blind faith in high levels of intellectual-property 
protection is of the "future-binding type," in which technology and mythol- 
ogy act synergistically to legitimize elite control over technologies or other 
innovative or creative processes. 5 

The Return of the Jedi 

Richard Stallman took a stand against the proprietary model long before 
the rest of us even realized its power and trajectory. A computer scientist 
working in the 1970s and 1980s for the artificial-intelligence project at MIT, 
Stallman grew frustrated that computer companies were denying him and 
other hackers access to their source code. Stallman found he was not allowed 
to improve the software and devices that he had to work with, even when 
they did not work very well. More important, Stallman grew alarmed that he 
was becoming contractually bound to be unkind and selfish. The user agree- 
ments that accompanied proprietary software forbade him from sharing his 
tools and techniques with others. As a scientist, he was offended that open- 
ness was being criminalized. As a citizen, he was a concerned that freedoms 
of speech and creativity were being constricted. As a problem solver, he set 
out to establish the Free Software Foundation to prove that good tools and 
technologies could emerge from a community of concerned creators. Lever- 
aging the communicative power of technology newsletters and the postal 
system, Stallman sold tapes with his free (as in liberated) software on them. 


By the time enough of his constituency had connected themselves through 
the Internet, he started coordinating projects and conversations among a 
diverse and distributed set of programmers. 6 

During the late 1990s a growing team of hackers struggled to build the 
holy grail of free software: an operating-system kernel that would allow an 
array of programs to work in coordination. The group, led by Linus Torvalds, 
created a system that became known as Linux. It has since become the chief 
threat to the ubiquity and dominance of Microsoft. 7 

While Linux and the GNU (free software) project have garnered the most 
attention in accounts of open-source development, the protocols and programs 
that enable and empower e-mail, the World Wide Web, IRC (Internet Relay 
Chat), and just about every other activity on the Internet all emerged from com- 
munity-based project teams, often ad hoc and amateur. The resulting proto- 
cols are elegant, efficient, effective, and under constant revision. And they have 
empowered both the growth of the proprietary model and the open-source 
model of cultural production to reach expansive new markets and audiences. 8 

Each of these projects illuminates what Yochai Benkler calls "peer pro- 
duction." Benkler writes, 

The emergence of free software as a substantial force in the software devel- 
opment world poses a puzzle for [Ronald Coase's] organization theory. Free 
software projects do not rely either on markets or on managerial hierar- 
chies to organize production. Programmers do not generally participate in 
a project because someone who is their boss instructed them, though some 
do. They do not generally participate in a project because someone offers 
them a price, though some participants do focus on long-term appropria- 
tion through money- oriented activities, like consulting or service contracts. 
But the critical mass of participation in projects cannot be explained by the 
direct presence of a command, a price, or even a future monetary return, 
particularly in the all-important microlevel decisions regarding selection of 
projects to which participants contribute. In other words, programmers par- 
ticipate in free software projects without following the normal signals gener- 
ated by market-based, firm-based, or hybrid models. 9 

Economists assumed for decades that firms emerged to lower or elimi- 
nate transaction costs and coordination problems. But as it turns out, fast, 
efficient, and dependable communication, guided by protocols both social 
and digital (a process Benkler calls "integration"), can generate brilliant and 
powerful tools and expressions. Benkler concludes, 

Open Source as Culture/ Culture as Open Source 27 

The strength of peer production is in matching human capital to informa- 
tion inputs to produce new information goods. Strong intellectual prop- 
erty rights inefficiently shrink the universe of existing information inputs 
that can be subjected to this process. Instead, owned inputs will be limited 
to human capital with which the owner of the input has a contractual — 
usually employment — relationship. Moreover, the entire universe of peer- 
produced information gains no benefit from strong intellectual property 
rights. Since the core of commons-based peer production entails provi- 
sioning without direct appropriation and since indirect appropriation — 
intrinsic or extrinsic — does not rely on control of the information but on 
its widest possible availability, intellectual property offers no gain, only 
loss, to peer production. While it is true that free software currently uses 
copyright-based licensing to prevent certain kinds of defection from peer 
production processes, that strategy is needed only as a form of institutional 
jujitsu to defend from intellectual property. A complete absence of prop- 
erty in the software domain would be at least as congenial to free software 
development as the condition where property exists, but copyright permits 
free software projects to use licensing to defend themselves from defection. 
The same protection from defection might be provided by other means 
as well, such as creating simple public mechanisms for contributing one's 
work in a way that makes it unsusceptible to downstream appropriation — 
a conservancy of sorts. Regulators concerned with fostering innovation 
may better direct their efforts toward providing the institutional tools that 
would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their 
joint product, making the information they produce freely available rather 
than spending their efforts to increase the scope and sophistication of the 
mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good as they now do. 10 

Benkler's prescriptions seem like predictions. In recent years the govern- 
ments of nation-states as diverse as South Africa, Brazil, and the People's 
Republic of China have adopted policies that would encourage the dissemi- 
nation of open-source software. 

More significantly, the open-source model has moved far beyond soft- 
ware. Musician and composer Gilberto Gil, the culture minister of Brazil, has 
released several albums under a Creative Commons license. Such licenses 
(under which this chapter lies as well) are modeled off of the GNU Gen- 
eral Public License, which locks the content open. It requires all users of 
the copyrighted material to conform to terms that encourage sharing and 


Other significant extrasoftware projects based on the open-source model 
include Wikipedia, a remarkable compilation of fact and analysis written and 
reviewed by a committed team of peers placed around the world. And the 
scientific spheres have rediscovered their commitment to openness through 
the movement to establish and maintain open-access journals, thus evading 
the proprietary traps (and expenses) of large commercial journal publish- 
ers. 12 By 2004 citizen-based journalism, often known as "open-source jour- 
nalism," had grown in importance and established itself as an important and 
essential element of the global information ecosystem. 13 Such experiments 
are sure to proliferate in response to the failures (market and otherwise) of 
proprietary media forms. 14 

How Open Source Changes Copyright 

Copyright is a limited monopoly, granted by the state, meant to foster cre- 
ativity by generating a system of presumed incentives. The copyright holder 
must have enough faith in the system to justify his or her investment. And 
the copyright holders rights to exclude are limited by some public values 
such as education and criticism. This is the standard understanding of copy- 
right law's role and scope. But while acknowledging the interests of the pub- 
lic, it omits the voice of the public itself. In other words, the system can- 
not thrive if the public considers it to be captured, corrupted, irrelevant, or 
absurd. 15 

The rise and success of open-source models fosters a general understand- 
ing that copyright is not a single right bestowed on a brilliant individual 
author but is instead a "bundle" of rights that a copyright holder (individ- 
ual, corporation, organization, or foundation) may license. Most important, 
these experiments and projects show that "all rights reserved" need not be 
the default state of copyright protection. For many people, "some rights 
reserved" serves the interests of creators better than the absolutist propri- 
etary model does. 

As the rhetoric of open source and the politics of traditional knowledge 
and culture emerge in starker relief within the topography of copyright 
and cultural policy debates, their themes tend to converge. As anthropolo- 
gist Vladimir Hafstein describes the tension between copyright systems as 
dictated by the industrialized world and modes of communal cultural pro- 
duction that are best (albeit not exclusively) demonstrated in developing 
nations, he uses terms that could just as easily be applied to technological 
peer production. "Creativity as a social process is the common denomina- 

Open Source as Culture/ Culture as Open Source 29 

tor of these concepts and approaches," Hafstein writes. "From each of these 
perspectives, the act of creation is a social act. From the point of view of 
intertextuality, for example, works of literature are just as much a product 
of society or of discourse as they are of an individual author or, for that 
matter, reader." Traditional cultural knowledge, communally composed and 
lacking distinct marks of individual authorship, is "a node in a network 
of relations: not an isolated original, but a reproduction, a copy," Hafstein 
explains. 16 Nothing about Hafstein's descriptions of the politics of traditional 
knowledge offers a resolution to that particular source of friction in global 
intellectual-property battles. But the converging rhetorics reveal the extent 
to which innovation and creativity often (perhaps most often) sit outside 
the assumptions of incentives and protectionism on which high levels of 
corporate copyright protection rest. 

The open-source model of peer production, sharing, revision, and peer 
review has distilled and labeled the most successful creative habits into a 
political movement. This distillation has had costs and benefits. It has been 
difficult to court mainstream acceptance for such a tangle of seemingly tech- 
nical ideas when its chief advocates have been hackers and academics. Nei- 
ther class has much power or influence in the modern global economy or 
among centers of policy decision-making. On the other hand, the brilliant 
success of overtly labeled open-source experiments, coupled with the hor- 
ror stories of attempts to protect the proprietary model, has added common 
sense to the toolbox of these advocates. 


This chapter was originally published in Open Source Annual 2005 (Berlin: Technische Uni- 
versitat). This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. "An Open-Source Shot in the Arm? ," Economist, 12 June 2004. Also see Steve Weber, 
The Success of Open Source (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). 

2. Throughout this essay and in all of my work I intentionally conflate these two terms 
while being fully aware of the political distinction that Richard Stallman emphasizes in 
his defense of "free software." Stallman's point — that "open source" invites an emphasis 
on convenience and utility rather than freedom and community — was important to make 
in the 1990s. He lost the battle to control the terms, just as he has had to concede the 
rhetorical convenience and ubiquity of "LINUX" instead of the more accurate "GNU/ 
LINUX." I am confident that anyone who peers into the history or politics of the open- 
source movement will encounter Stallman's persuasive case for freedom and the GNU 
project's central contribution to the growth of the operating system we now call LINUX. 
See Richard Stallman, "The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement," in 
Open Sources: Voices of the Open Source Revolution, ed. Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and 
Mark Stone (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 1999). 


3. Siva Vaidhyanathan, Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property 
and How It Threatens Creativity (New York: NYU Press, 2001). Also see Peter Wayner, Free 
for All: How Linux and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High-Tech Titans (New 
York: HarperBusiness, 2000); Eric S. Raymond, "A Brief History of Hackerdom," in Open 
Sources: Voices of the Open Source Revolution, ed. Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark 
Stone (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 1999). 

4. Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom 
and Control Is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (New York: Basic Books, 
2004). Also see Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Con- 
nected World (New York: Random House, 2001); Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big 
Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (New 
York: Penguin, 2004). 

5. Richard Adkisson, "Ceremonialism, Intellectual Property Rights, and Innovation 
Activity," Journal of Economic Issues 38, no. 2 (2004): 460. 

6. Stallman, "The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement." Also see 
Sam Williams, Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software (Sebastopol, 
CA: O'Reilly, 2002). 

7. Linus Torvalds et al., Revolution OS: Hackers, Programmers & Rebels UNITE! (Los 
Angeles: Wonderview Productions; distributed by Seventh Art Releasing, 2003), video 
recording. Also see Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and 
Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, rev. ed. (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2001). 

8. Scott Bradner, "The Internet Engineering Task Force," in Open Sources: Voices from 
the Open Source Revolution, ed. Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman, and Mark Stone (Sebastopol, 
CA: O'Reilly, 1999). Also see Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol: How Control Exists after 
Decentralization (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004). 

9. Yochai Benkler, "Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and the Nature of the Firm," Yale Law 
Journal 112, no. 3 (2002): 372-373. 

10. Ibid., 446. 

11. Julian Dibell, "We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin," Wired, November 2004, avail- 
able online at 

12. Jocelyn Kaiser, "Zerhouni Plans a Nudge toward Open Access," Science, 3 Septem- 
ber 2004. 

13. Jay Rosen, "Top Ten Ideas of '04: Open Source Journalism, or 'My Readers Know 
More Than I Do,'" PressThink (blog), 28 December 2004, 
zone/weblogs/pressthink/2004/i2/28/tptno4_opsc.html. Also see Dan Gillmor, We the 
Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2004). 

14. Christopher M. Kelty, "Culture's Open Sources: Software, Copyright, and Cultural 
Critique," Anthropological Quarterly 77, no. 3 (2004). 

15. Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library. 

16. Vladimir Hafstein, "The Politics of Origins: Collective Creation Revisited," Journal 
of American Folklore 117 (2004): 307, 303. Also see Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and 
the Spirit of the Information Age (New York: Random House, 2001). 

Open Source as Culture/ Culture as Open Source 31 


What Is Web 2.0? 

Design Patterns and Business Models 
for the Next Generation of Software 

TIM o'reilly 

The bursting of the dot-com bubble in the fall of 2001 marked a 
turning point for the web. Many people concluded that the web was over- 
hyped, when in fact bubbles and consequent shakeouts appear to be a com- 
mon feature of all technological revolutions. 1 Shakeouts typically mark the 
point at which an ascendant technology is ready to take its place at center 
stage. The pretenders are given the bum's rush, the real success stories show 
their strength, and there begins to be an understanding of what separates 
one from the other. 

The concept of "Web 2.0" began with a conference brainstorming session 
between O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International. Dale Dougherty, web 
pioneer and O'Reilly vice president, noted that far from having "crashed," the 
web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites 
popping up with surprising regularity. What's more, the companies that had 
survived the collapse seemed to have some things in common. Could it be 
that the dot-com collapse marked some kind of turning point for the web, 
such that a call to action such as "Web 2.0" might make sense? We agreed 
that it did, and so the Web 2.0 Conference was born. 2 

In the year and a half since, the term "Web 2.0" has clearly taken hold, 
with more than 9.5 million citations in Google. But there's still a huge amount 
of disagreement about just what "Web 2.0" means, 3 with some people decry- 
ing it as a meaningless marketing buzzword and others accepting it as the 
new conventional wisdom. 

This essay is an attempt to clarify just what we mean by "Web 2.0." In our 
initial brainstorming, we formulated our sense of Web 2.0 by example (see 
table 4.1). The list went on and on. But what was it that made us identify 
one application or approach as "Web 1.0" and another as "Web 2.0"? (The 
question is particularly urgent because the Web 2.0 meme has become so 


Web i.o 

TABLE 4.1 

Web 2.0 





Britannica Online 

personal websites 


domain name speculation 

page views 

screen scraping 


content management systems 

directories (taxonomy) 


Google AdSense 





blogging and EVDB 

search engine optimization 

cost per click 

web services 



tagging ("folksonomy") 


widespread that companies are now pasting it on as a marketing buzzword, 
with no real understanding of just what it means. The question is particu- 
larly difficult because many of those buzzword-addicted start-ups are defi- 
nitely not Web 2.0, while some of the applications we identified as Web 2.0, 
like Napster and BitTorrent, are not even properly web applications!) We 
began trying to tease out the principles that are demonstrated in one way or 
another by the success stories of Web 1.0 and by the most interesting of the 
new applications. 

1. The Web as Platform 

Like many important concepts, Web 2.0 doesn't have a hard boundary but, 
rather, a gravitational core. You can visualize Web 2.0 as a set of principles 
and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demon- 
strate some or all of those principles, at a varying distance from that core. 
Figure 4.1 shows a "meme map" of Web 2.0 that was developed at a brain- 
storming session during FOO Camp, a conference at O'Reilly Media. It's very 
much a work in progress, but it shows the many ideas that radiate out from 
the Web 2.0 core. 

What Is Web 2.0? 


Fig. 4.1. Web 2.0 meme map 

For example, at the first Web 2.0 conference, in October 2004, John Bat- 
telle and I listed a preliminary set of principles in our opening talk. The first 
of those principles was "the web as platform." Yet that was also a rallying cry 
of Web 1.0 darling Netscape, which went down in flames after a heated battle 
with Microsoft. What's more, two of our initial Web 1.0 exemplars, Double- 
Click and Akamai, were both pioneers in treating the web as a platform. 
People don't often think of ad serving as "web services," but in fact, it was the 
first widely deployed web service and the first widely deployed "mashup" (to 
use another term that has gained currency of late). Every banner ad is served 
as a seamless cooperation between two websites, delivering an integrated 
page to a reader on yet another computer. Akamai also treats the network as 
the platform, and at a deeper level of the stack, building a transparent cach- 
ing and content-delivery network that eases bandwidth congestion. 

Nonetheless, these pioneers provided useful contrasts because later entrants 
have taken their solution to the same problem even further, understanding 
something deeper about the nature of the new platform. Both DoubleClick and 
Akamai were Web 2.0 pioneers, yet we can also see how it's possible to realize 
more of the possibilities by embracing additional Web 2.0 design patterns. 



Let's drill down for a moment into each of these three cases, teasing out 
some of the essential elements of difference. 

Netscape vs. Google 

If Netscape was the standard bearer for Web 1.0, Google is most certainly 
the standard bearer for Web 2.0, if only because their respective initial public 
offerings were defining events for each era. So let's start with a comparison of 
these two companies and their positioning. 

Netscape framed "the web as platform" in terms of the old software para- 
digm: its flagship product was the web browser, a desktop application, and its 
strategy was to use its dominance in the browser market to establish a mar- 
ket for high-priced server products. Control over standards for displaying 
content and applications in the browser would, in theory, give Netscape the 
kind of market power enjoyed by Microsoft in the PC market. Much like the 
"horseless carriage" framed the automobile as an extension of the familiar, 
Netscape promoted a "webtop" to replace the desktop and planned to popu- 
late that webtop with information updates and applets pushed to the webtop 
by information providers who would purchase Netscape servers. 

In the end, both web browsers and web servers turned out to be commodi- 
ties, and value moved "up the stack" to services delivered over the web platform. 

Google, by contrast, began its life as a native web application, never sold 
or packaged but delivered as a service, with customers paying, directly or 
indirectly, for the use of that service. None of the trappings of the old soft- 
ware industry is present. No scheduled software releases, just continuous 
improvement. No licensing or sale, just usage. No porting to different plat- 
forms so that customers can run the software on their own equipment, just a 
massively scalable collection of commodity PCs running open-source oper- 
ating systems plus homegrown applications and utilities that no one outside 
the company ever gets to see. 

At bottom, Google requires a competency that Netscape never needed: 
database management. Google isn't just a collection of software tools; it's a 
specialized database. Without the data, the tools are useless; without the soft- 
ware, the data is unmanageable. 

DoubleClick vs. Overture and AdSense 

Like Google, DoubleClick is a true child of the Internet era. It harnesses 
software as a service, has a core competency in data management, and, as 

What Is Web 2.0? 35 

noted earlier, was a pioneer in web services long before web services even had 
a name. However, DoubleClick was ultimately limited by its business model. It 
bought into the '90s notion that the web was about publishing, not participa- 
tion; that advertisers, not consumers, ought to call the shots; that size mattered; 
and that the Internet was increasingly being dominated by the top websites as 
measured by MediaMetrix and other web ad-scoring companies. 

As a result, DoubleClick proudly cites on its website "over 2000 successful 
implementations" of its software. Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Over- 
ture) and Google AdSense, by contrast, already serve hundreds of thousands 
of advertisers apiece. 

Overture's and Google's success came from an understanding of what 
Chris Anderson refers to as "the long tail," the collective power of the small 
sites that make up the bulk of the web's content (see chapter 10 in this vol- 
ume). Doubleclick's offerings require a formal sales contract, limiting its 
market to the few thousand largest websites. Overture and Google figured 
out how to enable ad placement on virtually any web page. What's more, they 
eschewed publisher/ad-agency-friendly advertising formats such as banner 
ads and popups in favor of minimally intrusive, context-sensitive, consumer- 
friendly text advertising. 

The Web 2.0 lesson: leverage customer self-service and algorithmic data 
management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, 
to the long tail and not just the head. 

Not surprisingly, other Web 2.0 success stories demonstrate this same 
behavior. eBay enables occasional transactions of only a few dollars between 
single individuals, acting as an automated intermediary. Napster (though 
shut down for legal reasons) built its network not by building a centralized 
song database but by architecting a system in such a way that every down- 
loader also became a server and thus grew the network. 

Akamai vs. BitTorrent 

Like DoubleClick, Akamai is optimized to do business with the head, not 
the tail, with the center, not the edges. While it serves the benefit of the indi- 
viduals at the edge of the web by smoothing their access to the high-demand 
sites at the center, it collects its revenue from those central sites. 

BitTorrent, like other pioneers in the peer-to-peer (P2P) movement, takes 
a radical approach to Internet decentralization. Every client is also a server; 
files are broken up into fragments that can be served from multiple locations, 


transparently harnessing the network of downloaders to provide both band- 
width and data to other users. The more popular the file, in fact, the faster it 
can be served, as there are more users providing bandwidth and fragments of 
the complete file. 

BitTorrent thus demonstrates a key Web 2.0 principle: the service auto- 
matically gets better the more people use it. While Akamai must add servers to 
improve service, every BitTorrent consumer brings his or her own resources 
to the party. There's an implicit "architecture of participation," a built-in ethic 
of cooperation, in which the service acts primarily as an intelligent broker, 
connecting the edges to each other and harnessing the power of the users 

2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence 

The central principle behind the success of the giants born in the Web 1.0 era 
who have survived to lead the Web 2.0 era appears to be this, that they have 
embraced the power of the web to harness collective intelligence: 

Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web. As users add new content, and 
new sites, it is bound in to the structure of the web by other users discover- 
ing the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with 
associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of 
connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all 
web users. 

Yahoo!, the first great Internet success story, was born as a catalog, or 
directory of links, an aggregation of the best work of thousands and then 
millions of web users. While Yahoo! has since moved into the business of 
creating many types of content, its role as a portal to the collective work of 
the net's users remains the core of its value. 

Google's breakthrough in search, which quickly made it the undisputed 
search-market leader, was PageRank, a method of using the link structure of 
the web rather than just the characteristics of documents to provide better 
search results. 

eBay's product is the collective activity of all its users; like the web itself, 
eBay grows organically in response to user activity, and the company's role 
is as an enabler of a context in which that user activity can happen. What's 
more, eBay's competitive advantage comes almost entirely from the critical 
mass of buyers and sellers, which makes any new entrant offering similar 
services significantly less attractive. 

What Is Web 2.0? 37 

Amazon sells the same products as competitors such as Barnesandno-, and it receives the same product descriptions, cover images, and 
editorial content from its vendors. But Amazon has made a science of user 
engagement. It has an order of magnitude more user reviews, invitations to 
participate in varied ways on virtually every page— and, even more impor- 
tant, it uses user activity to produce better search results. While a Barne- search is likely to lead with the company's own products, or 
sponsored results, Amazon always leads with "most popular," a real-time 
computation based not only on sales but on other factors that Amazon insid- 
ers call the "flow" around products. With an order of magnitude more user 
participation, it's no surprise that Amazon's sales also outpace competitors'. 

Now, innovative companies that pick up on this insight and perhaps extend 
it even further are making their mark on the web: 

Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia based on the unlikely notion that an 
entry can be added by any web user and edited by any other, is a radical 
experiment in trust, applying Eric Raymond's dictum (originally coined in 
the context of open-source software) that "with enough eyeballs, all bugs 
are shallow" to content creation. 4 Wikipedia is already in the top one hun- 
dred websites, and many people think it will be in the top ten before long. 
This is a profound change in the dynamics of content creation! 

Sites like and Flickr, two companies that have received a great 
deal of attention of late, have pioneered a concept that some people call 
"folksonomy" (in contrast to taxonomy), a style of collaborative categoriza- 
tion of sites using freely chosen keywords, often referred to as tags. 5 Tagging 
allows for the kind of multiple, overlapping associations that the brain itself 
uses, rather than rigid categories. In the canonical example, a Flickr photo 
of a puppy might be tagged both "puppy" and "cute"— allowing for retrieval 
along natural axes-generated user activity. 

Collaborative spam-filtering products like Cloudmark aggregate the indi- 
vidual decisions of e-mail users about what is and is not spam, outperform- 
ing systems that rely on analysis of the messages themselves. 

It is a truism that the greatest Internet success stories don't advertise their 
products. Their adoption is driven by "viral marketing" — that is, recommen- 
dations propagating directly from one user to another. You can almost make 
the case that if a site or product relies on advertising to get the word out, it 
isn't Web 2.0. 


Even much of the infrastructure of the web — including the Linux, Apache, 
MySQL, and Perl, PHP, or Python code involved in most web servers — relies 
on the peer-production methods of open source, in themselves an instance 
of collective, net-enabled intelligence. 6 There are more than one hundred 
thousand open-source software projects listed on Anyone 
can add a project, anyone can download and use the code, and new proj- 
ects migrate from the edges to the center as a result of users putting them to 
work, an organic software-adoption process relying almost entirely on viral 

The lesson: network effects from user contributions are the key to market dom- 
inance in the Web 2.0 era. 

Software licensing and control over application programming interfaces 
(APIs)— the lever of power in the previous era— is irrelevant because the 
software never need be distributed but only performed, and also because 
without the ability to collect and manage the data, the software is of little use. 
In fact, the value of the software is proportional to the scale and dynamism of 
the data it helps to manage. 

Google's service is not a server, though it is delivered by a massive col- 
lection of Internet servers; nor is it a browser, though it is experienced by 
the user within the browser. Nor does its flagship search service even host 
the content that it enables users to find. Much like a phone call, which hap- 
pens not just on the phones at either end of the call but on the network in 
between, Google happens in the space between browser and search engine 
and destination content server, as an enabler or middleman between the user 
and his or her online experience. 

While both Netscape and Google could be described as software compa- 
nies, it's clear that Netscape belonged to the same software world as Lotus, 
Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and other companies that got their start in the 1980s 
software revolution, while Google's fellows are other Internet applications 
like eBay, Amazon, Napster, and, yes, DoubleClick and Akamai. 

Blogging and the Wisdom of Crowds 

One of the most highly touted features of the Web 2.0 era is the rise of 
blogging. Personal home pages have been around since the early days of the 
web, and the personal diary and daily opinion column have been around 
much longer than that. So just what is the fuss all about? 

What Is Web 2.0? 39 

A blog, at its most basic, is just a personal home page in diary format. But 
as Rich Skrenta notes, the chronological organization of a blog "seems like a 
trivial difference, but it drives an entirely different delivery, advertising and 
value chain." 7 

One of the things that has made a difference is a technology called RSS. 8 
RSS is the most significant advance in the fundamental architecture of the 
web since early hackers realized that CGI could be used to create database- 
backed websites. RSS allows someone not just to link to a page but to sub- 
scribe to it, with notification every time that page changes. Skrenta calls this 
"the incremental web." Others call it the "live web." 

Now, of course, "dynamic websites" (i.e., database-backed sites with dynam- 
ically generated content) replaced static web pages well over ten years ago. 
What's dynamic about the live web are not just the pages but the links. A link 
to a weblog is expected to point to a perennially changing page, with "perma- 
links" for any individual entry and notification for each change. An RSS feed is 
thus a much stronger link than, say, a bookmark or a link to a single page. 

RSS also means that the web browser is not the only means of viewing 
a web page. While some RSS aggregators, such as Bloglines, are web based, 
others are desktop clients, and still others allow users of portable devices to 
subscribe to constantly updated content. 

RSS is now being used to push not just notices of new blog entries but also 
all kinds of data updates, including stock quotes, weather data, and photo 
availability. This use is actually a return to one of its roots: RSS was born in 
1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winers "Really Simple Syndication" tech- 
nology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's "Rich Site Summary," 
which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly 
updated data flows. Netscape lost interest, and the technology was carried 
forward by blogging pioneer Userland, Winer's company. In the current crop 
of applications, though, we see the heritage of both parents. 

But RSS is only part of what makes a weblog different from an ordinary 
web page. Tom Coates remarks on the significance of the permalink: 

It may seem like a trivial piece of functionality now, but it was effectively the 
device that turned weblogs from an ease-of-publishing phenomenon into a 
conversational mess of overlapping communities. For the first time it became 
relatively easy to gesture directly at a highly specific post on someone else's 
site and talk about it. Discussion emerged. Chat emerged. And — as a result — 
friendships emerged or became more entrenched. The permalink was the 
first — and most successful — attempt to build bridges between weblogs. 9 

40 TIM o'reilly 

In many ways, the combination of RSS and permalinks adds many of 
the features of NNTP, the Network News Protocol of the Usenet, onto 
HTTP, the web protocol. The "blogosphere" can be thought of as a new, 
peer-to-peer equivalent to Usenet and bulletin boards, the conversational 
watering holes of the early Internet. Not only can people subscribe to each 
other's sites and easily link to individual comments on a page, but also, via 
a mechanism known as trackbacks, they can see when anyone else links 
to their pages and can respond, either with reciprocal links or by adding 

Interestingly, two-way links were the goal of early hypertext systems like 
Xanadu. Hypertext purists have celebrated trackbacks as a step toward two- 
way links. But note that trackbacks are not properly two way — rather, they 
are really (potentially) symmetrical one-way links that create the effect of 
two-way links. The difference may seem subtle, but in practice it is enor- 
mous. Social networking systems like Friendster, Orkut, and Linkedln, which 
require acknowledgment by the recipient in order to establish a connection, 
lack the same scalability as the web. As noted by Caterina Fake, cofounder of 
the Flickr photo-sharing service, attention is only coincidentally reciprocal. 
(Flickr thus allows users to set watch lists — any user can subscribe to any 
other user's photostream via RSS. The object of attention is notified but does 
not have to approve the connection.) 

If an essential part of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning 
the web into a kind of global brain, the blogosphere is the equivalent of con- 
stant mental chatter in the forebrain, the voice we hear in all of our heads. It 
may not reflect the deep structure of the brain, which is often unconscious, 
but is instead the equivalent of conscious thought. And as a reflection of con- 
scious thought and attention, the blogosphere has begun to have a powerful 

First, because search engines use link structure to help predict useful 
pages, bloggers, as the most prolific and timely linkers, have a dispropor- 
tionate role in shaping search-engine results. Second, because the blogging 
community is so highly self-referential, bloggers' paying attention to other 
bloggers magnifies their visibility and power. The "echo chamber" that critics 
decry is also an amplifier. 

If blogging were merely an amplifier, it would be uninteresting. But like 
Wikipedia, blogging harnesses collective intelligence as a kind of filter. What 
James Surowiecki calls "the wisdom of crowds" comes into play, and much as 
PageRank produces better results than analysis of any individual document, 
the collective attention of the blogosphere selects for value. 10 

What Is Web 2.0? 41 

While mainstream media may see individual blogs as competitors, what is 
really unnerving is that the competition is with the blogosphere as a whole. 
This is not just a competition between sites but a competition between busi- 
ness models. The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor 
calls "we, the media," a world in which "the former audience," not a few peo- 
ple in a back room, decides what's important." 

3. Data Is the Next Intel Inside 

Every significant Internet application to date has been backed by a spe- 
cialized database: Google's web crawl, Yahool's directory (and web crawl), 
Amazon's database of products, eBay's database of products and sellers, 
MapQuest's map databases, Napster's distributed song database. As Hal Var- 
ian remarked in a personal conversation last year, "SQL is the new HTML." 
Database management is a core competency of Web 2.0 companies, so much 
so that we have sometimes referred to these applications as "infoware" rather 
than merely software. 12 

This fact leads to a key question: Who owns the data? 

In the Internet era, one can already see a number of cases where control 
over the database has led to market control and outsized financial returns. 
The monopoly on domain-name registry initially granted by government 
fiat to Network Solutions (later purchased by Verisign) was one of the 
first great moneymakers of the Internet. While we've argued that business 
advantage via controlling software APIs is much more difficult in the age 
of the Internet, control of key data sources is not, especially if those data 
sources are expensive to create or amenable to increasing returns via net- 
work effects. 

Look at the copyright notices at the base of every map served by Map- 
Quest,,, or, and you'll 
see the line "Maps copyright NavTeq, TeleAtlas" or, with the new satellite- 
imagery services, "Images copyright Digital Globe." These companies made 
substantial investments in their databases (NavTeq alone reportedly invested 
$750 million to build its database of street addresses and directions. Digital 
Globe spent $500 million to launch its own satellite to improve on govern- 
ment-supplied imagery.) NavTeq has gone so far as to imitate Intel's familiar 
"Intel Inside" logo: cars with navigation systems bear the imprint "NavTeq 
Onboard." Data is indeed the "Intel Inside" of these applications, a sole 
source component in systems whose software infrastructure is largely open 
source or otherwise commodified. 

42 TIM o'reilly 

The now hotly contested web-mapping arena demonstrates how a fail- 
ure to understand the importance of owning an applications core data will 
eventually undercut its competitive position. MapQuest pioneered the web- 
mapping category in 1995, yet when Yahoo! and then Microsoft and most 
recently Google decided to enter the market, they were easily able to offer a 
competing application simply by licensing the same data. 

Contrast, however, the position of Like competitors such 
as, its original database came from ISBN registry pro- 
vider R. R. Bowker. But unlike MapQuest, Amazon relentlessly enhanced the 
data, adding publisher- supplied data such as a cover image, a table of con- 
tents, an index, and sample material. Even more importantly, it harnessed its 
users to annotate the data, such that after ten years, Amazon, not Bowker, is 
the primary source for bibliographic data on books, a reference source for 
scholars and librarians as well as consumers. Amazon also introduced its 
own proprietary identifier, the ASIN, which corresponds to the ISBN when 
one is present and creates an equivalent name space for products without 
one. Effectively, Amazon "embraced and extended" its data suppliers. 

Imagine if MapQuest had done the same thing, harnessing its users to anno- 
tate maps and directions, adding layers of value. It would have been much more 
difficult for competitors to enter the market just by licensing the base data. 

The recent introduction of Google Maps provides a living laboratory 
for the competition between application vendors and their data suppliers. 
Google's lightweight programming model has led to the creation of numer- 
ous value-added services in the form of mashups that link Google Maps with 
other Internet-accessible data sources. Paul Rademacher's housingmaps. 
com, which combines Google Maps with Craigslist apartment-rental and 
home-purchase data to create an interactive housing search tool, is the pre- 
eminent example of such a mashup. 

At present, these mashups are mostly innovative experiments, done by 
hackers. But entrepreneurial activity follows close behind. And already one 
can see that for at least one class of developer, Google has taken the role of 
data source away from NavTeq and inserted itself as a favored intermediary. 
We expect to see battles between data suppliers and application vendors in 
the next few years, as both realize just how important certain classes of data 
will become as building blocks for Web 2.0 applications. 

The race is on to own certain classes of core data: location, identity, calen- 
daring of public events, product identifiers, and name spaces. In many cases, 
where there is significant cost to create the data, there may be an opportunity 
for an Intel Inside-style play, with a single source for the data. In others, the 

What Is Web 2.0? 43 

winner will be the company that first reaches critical mass via user aggrega- 
tion and turns that aggregated data into a system service. 

For example, in the area of identity, PayPal, Amazon's l-click, and the mil- 
lions of users of communications systems may all be legitimate contenders 
to build a network-wide identity database. (In this regard, Google's recent 
attempt to use cell-phone numbers as an identifier for Gmail accounts may 
be a step toward embracing and extending the phone system.) Meanwhile, 
start-ups like Sxip are exploring the potential of federated identity, in quest 
of a kind of "distributed l-click" that will provide a seamless Web 2.0 iden- 
tity subsystem. In the area of calendaring, EVDB is an attempt to build the 
world's largest shared calendar via a wiki-style architecture of participa- 
tion. While the jury's still out on the success of any particular start-up or 
approach, it's clear that standards and solutions in these areas, effectively 
turning certain classes of data into reliable subsystems of the "Internet oper- 
ating system," will enable the next generation of applications. 

A further point must be noted with regard to data, and that is user con- 
cerns about privacy and their rights to their own data. In many of the early 
web applications, copyright is only loosely enforced. For example, Amazon 
lays claim to any reviews submitted to the site, but in the absence of enforce- 
ment, people may repost the same review elsewhere. However, as companies 
begin to realize that control over data may be their chief source of competi- 
tive advantage, we may see heightened attempts at control. 

Much as the rise of proprietary software led to the Free Software move- 
ment, we expect the rise of proprietary databases to result in a Free Data 
movement within the next decade. One can see early signs of this counter- 
vailing trend in open data projects such as Wikipedia, in the Creative Com- 
mons, and in software projects like Greasemonkey, which allow users to take 
control of how data is displayed on their computer. 

4. End of the Software Release Cycle 

As noted earlier in the discussion of Google versus Netscape, one of the 
defining characteristics of Internet-era software is that it is delivered as a ser- 
vice, not as a product. This fact leads to a number of fundamental changes in 
the business model of such a company: 

Operations must become a core competency. Google's or Yahool's expertise in 
product development must be matched by an expertise in daily operations. So 
fundamental is the shift from software as artifact to software as service that the 

44 TIM o'reilly 

software will cease to perform unless it is maintained on a daily basis. Google 
must continuously crawl the web and update its indices, continuously filter 
out link spam and other attempts to influence its results, and continuously and 
dynamically respond to hundreds of millions of asynchronous user queries, 
simultaneously matching them with context- appropriate advertisements. 

It's no accident that Google's system administration, networking, and 
load-balancing techniques are perhaps even more closely guarded secrets 
than are their search algorithms. Google's success at automating these pro- 
cesses is a key part of its cost advantage over competitors. 

It's also no accident that scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP, 
and now Ruby play such a large role at Web 2.0 companies. Perl was famously 
described by Hassan Schroeder, Sun's first webmaster, as "the duct tape of the 
Internet." Dynamic languages (often called scripting languages and looked 
down on by the software engineers of the era of software artifacts) are the 
tool of choice for system and network administrators, as well as for applica- 
tion developers building dynamic systems that require constant change. 

Users must be treated as codevelopers, in a reflection of open-source devel- 
opment practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released 
under an open-source license). The open-source dictum, "release early and 
release often," in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, "the 
perpetual beta," in which the product is developed in the open, with new fea- 
tures slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It's no acci- 
dent that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr,, and the 
like may be expected to bear a "Beta" logo for years at a time. 

Real-time monitoring of user behavior to see just which new features are 
used, and how they are used, thus becomes another required core compe- 
tency. A web developer at a major online service remarked, "We put up two 
or three new features on some part of the site every day, and if users don't 
adopt them, we take them down. If they like them, we roll them out to the 
entire site." 

Cal Henderson, the lead developer of Flickr, recently revealed that the com- 
pany deploys new builds up to every half hour. 13 This is clearly a radically dif- 
ferent development model! While not all web applications are developed in as 
extreme a style as Flickr, almost all web applications have a development cycle 
that is radically unlike anything from the PC or client-server era. It is for this 
reason that a recent ZDNet editorial concluded that Microsoft won't be able 
to beat Google: "Microsoft's business model depends on everyone upgrading 
their computing environment every two to three years. Google's depends on 
everyone exploring what's new in their computing environment every day" 14 

What Is Web 2.0? 45 

While Microsoft has demonstrated enormous ability to learn from and 
ultimately best its competition, there's no question that this time, the 
competition will require Microsoft (and by extension, every other exist- 
ing software company) to become a deeply different kind of company 
Native Web 2.0 companies enjoy a natural advantage, as they don't have 
old patterns (and corresponding business models and revenue sources) 
to shed. 

5. Lightweight Programming Models 

Once the idea of web services became au courant, large companies jumped 
into the fray with a complex web-services stack designed to create highly 
reliable programming environments for distributed applications. 

But much as the web succeeded precisely because it overthrew much of 
hypertext theory, substituting a simple pragmatism for ideal design, RSS 
has become perhaps the single most widely deployed web service because 
of its simplicity, while the complex corporate web-services stacks have yet to 
achieve wide deployment. 

Similarly,'s web services are provided in two forms: one 
adhering to the formalisms of the SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) 
web-services stack, the other simply providing XML data over HTTP, in a 
lightweight approach sometimes referred to as REST (Representational State 
Transfer). While high-value business-to-business (B2B) connections (like 
those between Amazon and retail partners like Toys "R" Us) use the SOAP 
stack, Amazon reports that 95 percent of the usage is of the lightweight REST 

This same quest for simplicity can be seen in other "organic" web services. 
Google's recent release of Google Maps is a case in point. Google Maps' sim- 
ple AJAX (Javascript and XML) interface was quickly decrypted by hackers, 
who then proceeded to remix the data into new services. 

Mapping-related web services had been available for some time from GIS 
vendors such as ESRI as well as from MapQuest and Microsoft MapPoint. 
But Google Maps set the world on fire because of its simplicity. While experi- 
menting with any of the formal vendor-supported web services required a 
formal contract between the parties, the way Google Maps was implemented 
left the data for the taking, and hackers soon found ways to creatively reuse 
that data. 

There are several significant lessons here: 


Support lightweight programming models that allow for loosely coupled 
systems. The complexity of the corporate-sponsored web-services stack is 
designed to enable tight coupling. While this is necessary in many cases, 
many of the most interesting applications can indeed remain loosely coupled 
and even fragile. The Web 2.0 mind-set is very different from the traditional 
IT mind-set! 

Think syndication, not coordination. Simple web services, like RSS and 
REST-based web services, are about syndicating data outward, not control- 
ling what happens when it gets to the other end of the connection. This idea 
is fundamental to the Internet itself, a reflection of what is known as the end- 
to-end principle. 15 

Design for "hackability" and remixability. Systems like the original web, 
RSS, and AJAX all have this in common: the barriers to reuse are extremely 
low. Much of the useful software is actually open source, but even when it 
isn't, there is little in the way of intellectual-property protection. The web 
browser's "View Source" option made it possible for any user to copy any 
other user's web page; RSS was designed to empower the user to view the 
content he or she wants, when it's wanted, not at the behest of the informa- 
tion provider; the most successful web services are those that have been easi- 
est to take in new directions unimagined by their creators. The phrase "some 
rights reserved," which was popularized by the Creative Commons to con- 
trast with the more typical "all rights reserved," is a useful guidepost. 

Innovation in Assembly 

Lightweight business models are a natural concomitant of lightweight 
programming and lightweight connections. The Web 2.0 mind-set is good 
at reuse. A new service like was built simply by snapping 
together two existing services. doesn't have a business 
model (yet) — but for many small-scale services, Google AdSense (or perhaps 
Amazon Associates fees, or both) provides the snap-in equivalent of a rev- 
enue model. 

These examples provide an insight into another key Web 2.0 principle, 
which we call "innovation in assembly." When commodity components 
are abundant, you can create value simply by assembling them in novel or 
effective ways. Much as the PC revolution provided many opportunities for 
innovation in assembly of commodity hardware, with companies like Dell 
making a science out of such assembly, thereby defeating companies whose 

What Is Web 2.0? 47 

business model required innovation in product development, we believe 
that Web 2.0 will provide opportunities for companies to beat the compe- 
tition by getting better at harnessing and integrating services provided by 

6. Software above the Level of a Single Device 

One other feature of Web 2.0 that deserves mention is the fact that it's no 
longer limited to the PC platform. Longtime Microsoft developer Dave Stutz 
pointed out in his parting advice to Microsoft that "useful software written 
above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long 
time to come." 16 

Of course, any web application can be seen as software above the level 
of a single device. After all, even the simplest web application involves at 
least two computers: the one hosting the web server and the one hosting the 
browser. And as we've discussed, the development of the web as platform 
extends this idea to synthetic applications composed of services provided by 
multiple computers. 

But as with many areas of Web 2.0, where the "2.0-ness" is not something 
new but rather a fuller realization of the true potential of the web platform, 
this phrase gives us a key insight into how to design applications and services 
for the new platform. 

To date, iTunes is the best exemplar of this principle. This application 
seamlessly reaches from the handheld device to a massive web back-end, 
with the PC acting as a local cache and control station. There have been 
many previous attempts to bring web content to portable devices, but the 
iPod/iTunes combination is one of the first such applications designed from 
the ground up to span multiple devices. TiVo is another good example. 

iTunes and TiVo also demonstrate many of the other core principles of 
Web 2.0. They are not web applications per se, but they leverage the power of 
the web platform, making it a seamless, almost invisible part of their infra- 
structure. Data management is most clearly the heart of their offering. They 
are services, not packaged applications (although in the case of iTunes, it 
can be used as a packaged application, managing only the user's local data). 
What's more, both TiVo and iTunes show some budding use of collective 
intelligence, although in both cases, their experiments are at war with those 
of the intellectual property lobby. There's only a limited architecture of par- 
ticipation in iTunes, though the recent addition of podcasting changes that 
equation substantially. 

48 TIM o'reilly 

This is one of the areas of Web 2.0 where we expect to see some of the 
greatest change, as more and more devices are connected to the new plat- 
form. What applications become possible when our phones and our cars 
are not consuming data but reporting it? Real-time traffic monitoring, flash 
mobs, and citizen journalism are only a few of the early warning signs of the 
capabilities of the new platform. 

7. Rich User Experiences 

As early as Pei Wei's Viola browser in 1992, 17 the web was being used to 
deliver "applets" and other kinds of active content within the web browser. 
Java's introduction in 1995 was framed around the delivery of such applets. 
JavaScript and then DHTML were introduced as lightweight ways to provide 
client-side programmability and richer user experiences. Several years ago, 
Macromedia coined the term "Rich Internet Applications" (which has also 
been picked up by open-source Flash competitor Laszlo Systems) to high- 
light the capabilities of Flash to deliver not just multimedia content but also 
GUI-style application experiences. 

However, the potential of the web to deliver full-scale applications didn't 
hit the mainstream until Google introduced Gmail, quickly followed by 
Google Maps, web-based applications with rich user interfaces and PC- 
equivalent interactivity. The collection of technologies used by Google was 
christened "AJAX," in a seminal essay by Jesse James Garrett of web-design 
firm Adaptive Path. He wrote, 

Ajax isn't a technology. It's really several technologies, each flourishing in 
its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates: 

• standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS; 

• dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model; 

• data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT; 

• asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttp Request; 

• and JavaScript binding everything together. 18 

AJAX is also a key component of Web 2.0 applications such as Flickr, 
now part of Yahoo!, 37signals' applications basecamp and backpack, as well 
as other Google applications such as Gmail and Orkut. We're entering an 
unprecedented period of user-interface innovation, as web developers are 
finally able to build web applications as rich as local PC-based applications. 

What Is Web 2.0? 49 

Interestingly, many of the capabilities now being explored have been 
around for many years. In the late '90s, both Microsoft and Netscape had a 
vision of the kind of capabilities that are now finally being realized, but their 
battle over the standards to be used made cross-browser applications diffi- 
cult. It was only when Microsoft definitively won the browser wars, and there 
was a single de facto browser standard to write to, that this kind of applica- 
tion became possible. And while Firefox has reintroduced competition to the 
browser market, at least so far we haven't seen the destructive competition 
over web standards that held back progress in the '90s. 

We expect to see many new web applications over the next few years, both 
truly novel applications and rich web reimplementations of PC applications. 
Every platform change to date has also created opportunities for a leadership 
change in the dominant applications of the previous platform. 

Gmail has already provided some interesting innovations in e-mail, 19 com- 
bining the strengths of the web (accessible from anywhere, deep database 
competencies, searchability) with user interfaces that approach PC interfaces 
in usability. Meanwhile, other mail clients on the PC platform are nibbling 
away at the problem from the other end, adding instant-messaging (IM) and 
presence capabilities. How far are we from an integrated communications 
client combining the best of e-mail, IM, and the cell phone, using Voice over 
Internet Protocol (VoIP) to add voice capabilities to the rich capabilities of 
web applications? The race is on. 

It's easy to see how Web 2.0 will also remake the address book. A Web 
2.0 -style address book would treat the local address book on the PC or 
phone merely as a cache of the contacts you've explicitly asked the system 
to remember. Meanwhile, a web-based synchronization agent, Gmail style, 
would remember every message sent or received and every e-mail address 
and every phone number used and would build social networking heuris- 
tics to decide which ones to offer up as alternatives when an answer wasn't 
found in the local cache. Lacking an answer there, the system would query 
the broader social network. 

A Web 2.0 word processor would support wiki-style collaborative editing, 
not just standalone documents. But it would also support the rich format- 
ting we've come to expect in PC-based word processors. Writely is a good 
example of such an application, although it hasn't yet gained wide traction. 20 

Nor will the Web 2.0 revolution be limited to PC applications. Salesforce. 
com demonstrates how the web can be used to deliver software as a service, 
in enterprise-scale applications such as Customer Relations Management 


The competitive opportunity for new entrants is to fully embrace the poten- 
tial of Web 2.0. Companies that succeed will create applications that learn from 
their users, using an architecture of participation to build a commanding advan- 
tage not just in the software interface but in the richness of the shared data. 

Core Competencies of Web 2.0 Companies 

In exploring the seven principles discussed in this essay, we've highlighted 
some of the principal features of Web 2.0. Each of the examples we've 
explored demonstrates one or more of those key principles but may miss 
others. Let's close, therefore, by summarizing what we believe to be the core 
competencies of Web 2.0 companies: 

• Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability 

• Control over unique, hard-to-re-create data sources that get richer as more 
people use them 

• Trusting users as codevelopers 

• Harnessing collective intelligence 

• Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service 

• Software above the level of a single device 

• Lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models 

The next time a company claims that it's "Web 2.0," test its features against 
this list. The more points it scores, the more it is worthy of the name. Remem- 
ber, though, that excellence in one area may be more telling than some small 
steps in all seven. 


This chapter was originally published on September 30, 2005, on O'Reilly Radar (blog), 
at http://www.oreillynet.eom/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.htm 
(accessed July 17, 2010). This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution- 
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www/publications/endtoend/endtoend.pdf (accessed July 17, 2010); M. S Blumenthal and 
D. D. Clark, "Rethinking the Design of the Internet: The End to End Arguments vs. the 
Brave New World," ACM Transactions on Internet Technology 1, no. 1 (2001): 70-109. 

16. David Stutz, "Advice to Microsoft Regarding Commodity Software," The Synthesist 
(blog), February 11, 2003, (accessed 
July 17, 2010). 

17. Viola Web Browser, (accessed July 17, 2010). 

18. Jesse James Garrett, "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications," Adaptive Path 
website, February 18, 2005, 
php (accessed July 17, 2010). 

19. Tim O'Reilly, "The Fuss about Gmail and Privacy: Nine Reasons Why It's Bogus," 
O'Reilly Net (blog), April 16, 2004, (accessed July 
17, 2010). 

20. Editor's note: was purchased by Google on March 6, 2006, and has 
subsequently become Google Docs. 


What Is Collaboration Anyway? 


Sharing Is the First Step 

Information technology informs and structures the language of networked 
collaboration. Terms like "sharing," "openness," "user-generated content," 
and "participation" have become so ubiquitous that too often they tend to be 
conflated and misused. In an attempt to avoid the misuse of the term "col- 
laboration" we will try to examine what constitutes collaboration in digital 
networks and how it maps to our previous understanding of the term. 

User-generated content and social media create the tendency for confu- 
sion between sharing and collaboration. Sharing of content alone does not 
directly lead to collaboration. A common paradigm in many web services 
couples identity and content. Examples of this include blogging, microblog- 
ging, and video and photo sharing, which effectively say, "This is who I am. 
This is what I did." The content is the social object, and the author is directly 
attributed with it. This work is a singularity, even if it is shared with the world 
via these platforms, and even if it has a free-culture license on it. This body of 
work stands alone, and alone, this work is not collaborative. 

In contrast, the strongly collaborative Wikipedia deemphasizes the tight 
content- author link. While the attribution of each contribution made by 
each author is logged on the history tab of each page, attribution is primar- 
ily used as a moderation and accountability tool. While most user- generated 
content platforms offer a one-to-many relationship, in which one user pro- 
duces and uploads many different entries or media, wikis and centralized 
code-versioning systems offer a many-to-many relationship, in which many 
different users can be associated with many different entries or projects. 

Social media platforms can become collaborative when they add an addi- 
tional layer of coordination. On a microblogging platform like Twitter, this 


layer might take the form of an instruction to "use the #iranelections hashtag 
on your tweets," or on a photo-sharing platform, it might be an invitation to 
"post your photos to the LOLcats group." These mechanisms aggregate the 
content into a new social object. The new social object includes the metadata 
of each of its constituent objects; the authors name is the most important of 
this metadata. This creates two layers of content. Each shared individual unit 
is included in a cluster of shared units. A single shared video is part of an 
aggregation of demonstration documentation. A single shared bookmark is 
included in an aggregation of the "inspiration" tag on the social bookmark- 
ing service delicious. A single blog post takes its place in a blogosphere dis- 
cussion, and so on. 

This seems similar to a single "commit" to an open-source project or a 
single edit of a Wikipedia article, but these instances do not maintain the 
shared unit/collaborative cluster balance. For software in a code-versioning 
system or a page on Wikipedia, the single unit loses its integrity outside the 
collaborative context and is indeed created to only function as a part of the 
larger collaborative social object. 

Coordinating Mechanisms Create Contexts 

Contributions such as edits to a wiki page or "commits" to a version-control 
system cannot exist outside the context in which they are made. A relation- 
ship to this context requires a coordinating mechanism that is an integral 
part of the initial production process. These mechanisms of coordination 
and governance can be both technical and social. 

Wikipedia uses several technical coordination mechanisms, as well as 
strong social mechanisms. The technical mechanism separates each contri- 
bution, marks it chronologically, and attributes it to a specific username or 
IP address. If two users are editing the same paragraph and are submitting 
contradicting changes, the Media Wiki software will alert these users about 
the conflict and requires them to resolve it. Version-control systems use 
similar technical coordination mechanisms, marking each contribution 
with a time stamp and a username and requiring the resolution of differ- 
ences between contributions if there are discrepancies in the code due to 
different versions. 

The technical coordination mechanisms of the Wiki software lowers the 
friction of collaboration tremendously, but it doesn't take it away completely. 
It makes it much harder to create contributions that are not harmonious with 
the surrounding context. If a contribution is deemed inaccurate, or not an 


improvement, a user can simply revert to the previous edit. This new change 
is then preserved and denoted by the time and user who contributed it. 

Academic research into the techno-social dynamics of Wikipedia shows 
clear emergent patterns of leadership. For example, the initial content and 
structure outlined by the first edit of an article are often maintained through 
the many future edits years on. 1 The governance mechanism of the Wiki soft- 
ware does not value one edit over the other. Yet what is offered by the initial 
author is not just the initiative for the collaboration; it is also a leading guide- 
line that implicitly coordinates the contributions that follow. 

Wikipedia then uses social contracts to mediate the relationship of con- 
tributions to the collection as a whole. All edits are supposed to advance the 
collaborative goal — to make the article more accurate and factual. All new 
articles are supposed to be on relevant topics. All new biographies need to 
meet specific guidelines of notability. These are socially agreed upon con- 
tracts, and their fabric is always permeable. The strength of that fabric is the 
strength of the community. 

An interesting example of leadership and of conflicting social pacts hap- 
pened on the Wikipedia "Elephants" article. In the TV show The Colbert 
Report Stephen Colbert plays a satirical character of a right-wing television 
host dedicated to defending Republican ideology by any means necessary. 
For example, he constructs ridiculous arguments denying climate change. 
He is not concerned that this completely ignores reality, which he claims 
"has a liberal bias." 

On July 31, 2006, Colbert ironically proposed the term "Wikiality" as a 
way to alter the perception of reality by editing a Wikipedia article. Colbert 
analyzed the interface in front of his audience and performed a live edit to 
the "Elephants" page, adding a claim that the elephant population in Africa 
had tripled in the past six months. 

Colbert proposed his viewers follow a different social pact. He suggested 
that if enough of them helped edit the article on elephants to preserve his edit 
about the number of elephants in Africa, then that would become the real- 
ity, or the "Wikiality" — the representation of reality through Wikipedia. As he 
said, "If you're going against what the majority of people perceive to be reality, 
you're the one who's crazy." He also claimed that this would be a tough "fact" 
for the environmentalists to compete with, retorting, "Explain that, Al Gore!" 2 

It was great TV, but it created problems for Wikipedia. So many people 
responded to Colbert's rallying cry that Wikipedia locked the article on 
elephants to protect it from further vandalism. 3 Furthermore, Wikipedia 
banned the user Stephencolbert for using an unverified celebrity name, a 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 55 

violation of Wikipedia's terms of use. 4 Colbert's and his viewers' edits were 
perceived as mere vandalism that was disrespectful of the social contract that 
the rest of Wikipedia adhered to, thus subverting the underlying fabric of 
the community. Yet they were following the social contract provided by their 
leader and his initial edit. It was their own collaborative social pact, enabled 
and coordinated by their own group. Ultimately, Wikipedia had to push one 
of its more obscure rules to its edges to prevail against Stephen Colbert and 
his viewers. The surge of vandals was blocked, but Colbert gave them a run 
for the money, and everyone else a laugh, all the while making a point about 
how we define the boundaries of contribution. 

Does Aggregation Constitute Collaboration? 

Can all contributions coordinated in a defined context be understood as col- 
laboration? In early 2009 Israeli musician Kutiman (Ophir Kutiel) collected 
video clips posted on YouTube of hobbyist musicians and singers performing 
to their webcams. He then used one of the many illegal tools available online 
to extract the raw video files from YouTube. He sampled these clips to create 
new music videos. He writes of his inspiration, 

Before I had the idea about ThruYou I took some drummers from You- 
Tube and I played on top of them — just for fun, you know. And then one 
day, just before I plugged my guitar to play on top of the drummer from 
YouTube, I thought to myself, you know — maybe I can find a bass and gui- 
tar and other players on YouTube to play with this drummer. 5 

The result was a set of seven music-video mashups which he titled 
"ThruYou — Kutiman Mixes YouTube." Each of these audiovisual mixes is 
so well crafted it is hard to remind yourself that when David Taub from was recording his funk riff he was never planning 
to be playing it to the Bernard "Pretty" Purdie drum beat or to the user 
miquelsi's playing with the theremin at the Universeum, in Goteborg. It is 
also hard to remind yourself that this brilliantly orchestrated musical piece 
is not the result of a collaboration. 

When Kutiman calls the work "ThruYou" does he mean "You" as in "us" 
his audience? "You" as in the sampled musicians? Or "You" as in YouTube? 
By subtitling it "Kutiman mixes YouTube" is he referring to the YouTube ser- 
vice owned by Google, or the YouTube users whose videos he sampled? 

The site opens with an introduction/disclaimer paragraph: 


What you are about to see is a mix of unrelated YouTube videos/ clips edited 
together to create Thru You. In Other words — what you see is what you get. 

Check out the credits for each video — you might find yourself. 

PLAY ► 6 

In the site Kutiman included an "About" video in which he explains the 
process and a "Credits" section where the different instruments are credited 
with their YouTube IDs (like tU8gmozj8xY and 6FX_84iWPLU) and linked 
to the original YouTube pages. 

The user miquelsi did share the video of himself playing the Theremin on 
YouTube, but he did not intend to collaborate with other musicians. We don't 
even know if he really thought he was making music: it is very clear from 
the video that he doesn't really know how to play the Theremin, so when he 
titled his video "Playing the Theremin" he could have meant playing as music 
making or playing as amusement. It would be easy to focus on the obvious 
issues of copyright infringement and licensing, but the aspect of Kutiman's 
work we're actually interested in is the question of intention. 

Is intention essential to collaboration? It seems clear that though these 
works were aggregated to make a new entity, they were originally shared as 
discrete objects with no intention of having a relationship to a greater con- 
text. But what about works that are shared with an awareness of a greater 
context, that help improve that context, but are not explicitly shared for that 

Web creators are increasingly aware of "best practices" for search-engine 
optimization (SEO). By optimizing, web-page creators are sharing objects 
with a strong awareness of the context in which they are being shared, and 
in the process they are making the Google PageRank mechanism better and 
more precise. Their intention is not to make PageRank more precise, but by 
being aware of the context, they achieve that result. Although reductive, this 
does fit a more limited definition of collaboration. 

The example of PageRank highlights the questions of coordination and 
intention. Whether or not they are optimizing their content and thus improv- 
ing PageRank, web-content publishers are not motivated by the same shared 
goal that motivates Google and its shareholders. These individuals do coor- 
dinate their actions with Google's mechanism out of their own self-interest to 
achieve better search results, but they don't coordinate their actions in order to 
improve the mechanism itself. The same can be said about most Twitter users, 
most Flickr users, and the various musicians who have unintentionally con- 
tributed to YouTube's success and to Kutiman's ThruYou project. 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 57 

Collaboration requires goals. There are multiple types of intentional- 
ly that highlight the importance of intent in collaboration. The intentional 
practice is different from the intentional goal. Optimizing a web page is done 
to intentionally increase search results, but it unintentionally contributes to 
making Google PageRank better. When we claim that intention is necessary 
for collaboration, we really are talking about intentional goals. Optimizing 
your site for Google search is a collaboration with Google only if you define 
it as your personal goal. Without these shared goals, intentional practice is a 
much weaker case of collaboration. 


As collaborative action can have more than one intent, it can also have more 
than one repercussion. These multiple layers are often a source of conflict 
and confusion. A single collaborative action can imply different and even 
contrasting group associations. In different group contexts, one intent might 
incriminate or legitimize the other. This group identity crisis can undermine 
the legitimacy of collaborative efforts altogether. 

Collaboration can mean collaborating with an enemy. In a presentation 
at the Dictionary of War conference in Novi Sad, Serbia, in January 2008, 
Israeli curator Galit Eilat described the joint Israeli- Palestinian project "Lim- 
inal Spaces": 

When the word "collaboration" appeared, there was a lot of antagonism to 
the word. It has become very problematic, especially in the Israeli/ Pales- 
tinian context. I think from the Second World War the word "collabora- 
tion" had a special connotation. From Vichy government, the puppet gov- 
ernment, and later on the rest of the collaborations with Nazi Germany. 7 

While there was no doubt that "Liminal Spaces" was indeed a collabora- 
tion between Israelis and Palestinians, the term itself was not only contested; 
it was outright dangerous. 

The danger of collaboration precedes this project. I remember one 
night in 1994 when I was a young soldier serving in an Israeli army base 
near the Palestinian city of Hebron, around 3:30 a.m. a car pulled off just 
outside the gates of our base. The door opened, and a dead body was 
dropped from the back seat on the road. The car then turned around and 
rushed back towards the city. The soldiers that examined the body found 


it belonged to a Palestinian man. Attached to his back was a sign with the 
word "Collaborator." 

This grim story clearly illustrates how culturally dependent and context- 
based a collaboration can be. While semantically we will attempt to dissect what 
constitutes the context of a collaboration, we must acknowledge the inherit con- 
flict between individual identity and group identity. An individual might be a 
part of several collaborative or noncollaborative networks. Since a certain action 
like SEO optimization can be read in different contexts, it is often a challenge to 
distill individual identity from the way it intersects with group identities. 

The nonhuman quality of networks is precisely what makes them so dif- 
ficult to grasp. They are, we suggest, a medium of contemporary power, 
and yet no single subject or group absolutely controls a network. Human 
subjects constitute and construct networks, but always in a highly distrib- 
uted and unequal fashion. Human subjects thrive on network interaction 
(kin groups, clans, the social), yet the moments when the network logic 
takes over — in the mob or the swarm, in contagion or infection — are the 
moments that are the most disorienting, the most threatening to the integ- 
rity of the human ego. 8 

The term "group identity" itself is confusing, as it obfuscates the complex- 
ity of different individual identities networked together within the group. 
This inherent difficulty presented by the nonhuman quality of networks 
means that the confusion of identities and intents will persist. Relationships 
between individuals in groups are rich and varied. We cannot assume a com- 
pletely shared identity and equal characteristics for every group member just 
by grouping them together. 

We cannot expect technology (playing the rational adult) to solve this ten- 
sion either, as binary computing often leads to an even further reduction (in 
the representation) of social life. As Ippolita, Geert Lovink, and Ned Rossiter 
point out, "We are addicted to ghettos, and in so doing refuse the antagonism 
of 'the political.' Where is the enemy? Not on Facebook, where you can only 
have 'friends.' What Web 2.0 lacks is the technique of antagonistic linkage." 9 

The basic connection in Facebook is referred to as "friendship" since there 
is no way for software to elegantly map the true dynamic nuances of social 
life. While "friendship" feels more comfortable, its overuse is costing us rich- 
ness of our social life. We would like to avoid these binaries by offering varia- 
tion and degrees of participation. 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 59 

Criteria for Collaboration 

"Collaboration" is employed so widely to describe the methodology of produc- 
tion behind information goods that it occludes as much as it reveals. In addi- 
tion, governments, business, and cultural entrepreneurs apparently can't get 
enough of it, so a certain skepticism is not unwarranted. But even if overuse 
as a buzzword has thrown a shadow over the term, what follows is an attempt 
to try and construct an idea of what substantive meaning it could have and 
distinguish it from related or neighboring ideas such as cooperation, interde- 
pendence, or coproduction. This task seems necessary not least because if the 
etymology of the word is literally "working together," there is a delicate and 
significant line between "working with" and "being put to work by" . . . 

Some products characterized as collaborative are generated simply through 
peoples common use of tools, presence, or performance of routine tasks. Oth- 
ers require active coordination and deliberate allocation of resources. While 
the results may be comparable from a quantitative or efficiency perspective, a 
heterogeneity of social relations and design lie behind the outputs. 

The intensity of these relationships can be described as sitting somewhere 
on a continuum from strong ties with shared intentionality to incidental pro- 
duction by strangers, captured through shared interfaces or agents, some- 
times unconscious byproducts of other online activity. 

Consequently we can set out both strong and weak definitions of collabo- 
ration, while remaining aware that many cases will be situated somewhere in 
between. While the former points toward the centrality of negotiation over 
objectives and methodology, the latter illustrates the harvesting capacity of 
technological frameworks where information is both the input and output of 

Criteria for assessing the strength of a collaboration include: 

Questions of Intention 

Must the participant actively intend to contribute? Is willful agency 
needed? Or is a minimal act of tagging a resource with keywords, or mere 
execution of a command in an enabled technological environment (emer- 
gence), sufficient? 

Questions of Goals 

Is participation motivated by the pursuit of goals shared with other par- 
ticipants or individual interests? 


Questions of (Self-)Governance 

Are the structures and rules of engagement accessible? Can they be con- 
tested and renegotiated? Are participants interested in engaging on this level 
(control of the mechanism)? 

Questions of Coordination Mechanisms 

Is human attention required to coordinate the integration of contribu- 
tions? Or can this be accomplished automatically? 

Questions of Property 

How is control or ownership organized over the outputs (if relevant)? 
Who is included and excluded in the division of the benefits? 

Questions of Knowledge Transfer 

Does the collaboration result in knowledge transfer between participants? 
Is it similar to a community of practice, described by Etienne Wenger as 
"groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about 
a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by inter- 
acting on an ongoing basis." 10 

Questions of Identity 

To what degree are individual identities of the participants affected by the 
collaboration toward a more unified group identity? 

Questions of Scale 

Questions of scale are key to group management and have a substantial 
effect on collaboration. The different variables of scale are often dynamic 
and can change through the process of the collaboration, thus changing the 
nature and the dynamics of the collaboration altogether. 

Size — How big or small is the number of participants? 

Duration — How long or short is the time frame of the collaboration? 

Speed — How time consuming is each contribution? How fast is the decision- 
making process? 

Space — Does the collaboration take place over a limited or extended geo- 
graphic scale? 

Scope — How minimal or complex is the most basic contribution? How exten- 
sive and ambitious is the shared goal? 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 61 

Questions of Network Topology 

How are individuals connected to each other? Are contributions indi- 
vidually connected to each other, or are they all coordinated through a uni- 
fying bottle-neck mechanism? Is the participation-network model highly 
centralized, is it largely distributed, or does it assume different shades of 

Questions of Accessibility 

Can anyone join the collaboration? Is there a vetting process? Are partici- 
pants accepted by invitation only? 

Questions of Equality 

Are all contributions largely equal in scope? Does a small group of par- 
ticipants generate a far larger portion of the work? Are the levels of control 
over the project equal or varied between the different participants? 

Continuum Set 

The series of criteria just outlined provides a general guide for the qualita- 
tive assessment of the cooperative relationship. In what follows, these criteria 
are used to sketch out a continuum of collaboration. The following clusters 
of cases illustrate a movement from weakest to strongest connections. This 
division is crude, as it sidelines the fact that within even apparently weak 
contexts of interaction there may be a core of people whose commitment is 
of a higher order (e.g., ReCaptcha). 

The Weakest Link . . . 

(1) Numerous technological frameworks gather information during use 
and feed the results back into the apparatus. The most evident example is 
Google, whose PageRank algorithm uses a survey of links between sites to 
classify their relevance to a user's query. 

Likewise ReCaptcha uses a commonplace authentication in a two-part 
implementation, first to exclude automated spam and then to digitize 
words from books that were not recognizable by optical character recog- 
nition. Contributions are extracted from participants unconscious of the 
recycling of their activity into the finessing of the value chain. Website 
operators who integrate ReCaptcha, however, know precisely what they're 
doing and choose to transform a necessary defense mechanism for their 


site into a productive channel of contributions to what they regard as a 
useful task. 

(2) Aggregation services such as delicious and photographic archives 
such as Flickr, ordered by tags and geographic information, leverage users' 
self-interests in categorizing their own materials to enhance usability. In 
these cases the effects of user actions are transparent. Self-interest converges 
with the usefulness of the aggregated result. There is no active negotiation 
with the designers or operators of the system but acquiescence to the basic 

(3) Distributed computing projects such as SETI and Folding@Home 
require a one-off choice by users as to how to allocate resources, after which 
they remain passive. Each contribution is small, and the cost to the user is 
correspondingly low. Different projects candidate themselves for selection, 
and users have neither a role in defining the choice available nor an ongo- 
ing responsibility for the maintenance of the system. Nonetheless, the aggre- 
gated effect generates utility. 

Stronger . . . 

(4) P2P platforms like BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Limewire constitute 
a system in which strangers assist one another in accessing music, video, 
applications, and other files. The subjective preferences of individual users 
give each an interest in the maintenance of such informal institutions as a 
whole. Bandwidth contribution to the network guarantees its survival and 
promises the satisfaction of at least some needs, some of the time. Intention 
is required, especially in the context of attempts at its suppression through 
legal action and industry stigmatization. Links between individual users are 
weak, but uncooperative tendencies are disadvantaged by protocols requir- 
ing reciprocity or biasing performance in favor of generous participants (e.g., 
BitTorrent, emule). 

(5) Slashdot, the technology-related news and discussion site, does not 
actually produce articles at all. Instead, stories are submitted by users, which 
are then filtered. Those published are either selected by paid staff or voted on 
by the user base. Following this, the stories are presented on the web page, 
and the real business of Slashdot begins: voluminous commentary rang- 
ing from additional information on the topic covered (of varying levels of 
accuracy) to analysis (of various degrees of quality) to speculation (of vari- 
ous degrees of pertinence), taking in jokes and assorted trolling along the 
way. This miasma is then ordered by the users themselves, a changing subset 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 63 

of whom have evaluation powers over the comments, which they assess for 
relevance and accuracy on a sliding scale. The number and quality of com- 
ments presented is then determined by users themselves by configuring their 
viewing preferences. User moderations are in turn moderated for fairness by 
other users, in a process known as metamoderation. 11 

In addition to the news component of the site, Slashdot also provides all 
users with space for a journal (which predates the blog) and tools to charac- 
terize relations with other users as "friends" or "foes" (predating and exceed- 
ing Facebook). The software behind the site, slashcode, is free software which 
is used by numerous other web communities of a smaller scale. 

(6) Vimeo, a portal for user-produced video, shelters a wide variety of 
subcultures/communities under one roof. Two factors stand out which dis- 
tinguish it from other apparently similar sites: the presence of explicit collec- 
tive experimentation and a high level of knowledge sharing. Members fre- 
quently propose themes and solicit contributions following a defined script 
and then assemble the results as a collection. 

Several channels are explicitly devoted to teaching others techniques in 
film production and editing, but the spirit of exchange is diffuse throughout 
the site. Viewers commonly query the filmmaker as to how particular effects 
were achieved, equipment employed, and so on. The extent to which Vimeo 
is used for knowledge sharing distinguishes it from YouTube, where com- 
mentary regularly collapses into flame wars, and brings it close to Wenger's 
concept of a "community of practice," previously discussed. 

Vimeo is nonetheless a private company whose full-time employees have 
the final word in terms of moderation decisions, but substantially the com- 
munity flourishes on a shared set of norms which encourage supportive and 
constructive commentary and on a willingness to share know-how in addi- 
tion to moving images. 

. . . Intense 

(7) Although there is something of an overreliance on Wikipedia as an 
example in discussions of collaboration and social media, its unusually 
evolved structure makes it another salient case. The overall goal is clear: con- 
struction of an encyclopedia capable of superseding one of the classical refer- 
ence books of history. 

The highly modular format affords endless scope for self-selected involve- 
ment on subjects of a user's choice. Ease of amendment combined with pres- 
ervation of previous versions (the key qualities of wikis in general) enable 


both highly granular levels of participation and an effective self-defense 
mechanism against destructive users who defect from the goal. 

At the core of the project lies a group who actively self- identify themselves 
as Wikipedians and dedicate time to developing and promoting community 
norms, especially around the arbitration of conflicts. Jimmy Wales, the proj- 
ect's founder, remains the titular head of Wikipedia, and although there have 
been some conflicts between him and the community, he has in general con- 
ceded authority. But the tension remains without conclusive resolution. 

(8) FLOSSmanuals, the organization that facilitated the writing of this 
text you are reading, was originally established to produce documentation 
for free software projects, a historically weak point of the Free Software com- 
munity. The method usually involves the assembly of a core group of col- 
laborators who meet face-to-face for a number of days and produce a book 
during their time together. 

Composition of this text takes place on an online collective writing plat- 
form called booki, integrating wiki-like versioning history and a chat chan- 
nel. In addition to those who are physically present, remote participation is 
actively encouraged. When the work is focused on technical documentation, 
the functionality of the software in question provides a guide to the shape of 
the text. When the work is conceptual, as in the case of this text, it is neces- 
sary to come to an agreed basic understanding through discussion, which 
can jumpstart the process. Once under way, both content and structure are 
continually refined, edited, discussed, and revised. On conclusion, the book 
is made freely available on the website under a Creative Commons license, 
and physical copies are available for purchase on demand. 

(9) Closed P2P communities for music, film, and text, such as the now- 
suppressed Oink, build archives and complex databases. These commonly 
contain technical details about the quality of files (resolution, bit rate), sam- 
ples to illustrate quality (screenshots), relevant sources of information else- 
where (IMDb links, track listing, artwork), descriptions of the plot, director, 
musician, or formal significance of the work. 

In addition, most have a means of coordinating users such that delivery of 
the data is ensured. If someone is looking for a file currently unseeded, pre- 
ceding downloaders are notified, alerting them to the chance to assist. When 
combined with the fixed rules of protocol operation and community-spe- 
cific rules such as ratio requirements (whereby one must upload a specified 
amount in relation to the quantity downloaded), there is an effective scheme 
to encourage or even oblige cooperation. Numerous other tasks are assumed 
voluntarily, from the creation of subtitles, in the case of film, to the assembly 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 65 

of thematic collections. All users participate in carrying the data load, and a 
significant number actively source new materials to share with other mem- 
bers and to satisfy requests. 

(10) Debian is built on a clearly defined goal: the development and distri- 
bution of a GNU/Linux operating system consistent with the Debian Free 
Software Guidelines. These guidelines are part of a wider written "social con- 
tract," a code embodying the project's ethics, procedural rules, and frame- 
work for interaction. These rules are the subject of constant debate, and addi- 
tions to the code base likewise often give rise to extended debates touching 
on legal, political, and ethical questions. The social contract can be changed 
by a general resolution of the developers. 

Debian also exemplifies a "recursive community," 12 in that participants 
develop and maintain the tools which support their ongoing communica- 
tion. Developers have specified tasks and responsibilities, and the commu- 
nity requires a high level of commitment and attention. Several positions are 
appointed by election. 

Nonhuman Collaboration 

It is interesting to ask ourselves if humans are the only entities which might 
have agency in the world. Do you need language and consciousness to par- 
ticipate? Donna Haraway has observed that "it isn't humans that produced 
machines in some unilateral action — the arrow does not move all in one way. 
. . . There are very important nodes of energy in non-human agency, non- 
human actions." 13 Bruno Latour suggests it might be possible to extend social 
agency, rights, and obligations to automatic door closers, sleeping police offi- 
cers, bacteria, public transport systems, sheep dogs, and fences. 14 Taking this 
view, perhaps we might begin to imagine ourselves as operating in collabora- 
tion with a sidewalk, an egg-and-cheese sandwich, our stomachs, or the Age 
of Enlightenment. 

Most of our conversations about collaboration begin with the presump- 
tion of a kind of binary opposition between the individual and social agency. 
Latour solves this problem by suggesting that there are actor-networks — 
entities with both structure and agency. We ignore the nonhuman at our 
own peril, for all manner of nonhuman things incite, provoke, participate 
in, and author actions in the world. How might it inform and transform our 
conversations about collaboration if we imagined ourselves to be collaborat- 
ing not only with people but with things, forces, networks, intellectual his- 
tory, and bacteria? 



This chapter is excerpted from Adam Hyde et al., Collaborative Futures, FLOSSmanu-, (accessed July 20, 2010). This work is 
licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. Aniket Kittur and Robert E. Kraut, "Harnessing the Wisdom of Crowds in Wiki- 
pedia: Quality through Coordination," Proceedings 0/2008 ACM Conference on Computer 
Supported Cooperative Work, 2004, (accessed 
July 20, 2010). 

2. Stephen Colbert, "The Word — Wikiality," Colbert Nation, July 31, 2006, http://www. — wikiality 
(accessed July 20, 2010). 

3. Ral3i5, "Wikipedia Satire Leads to Vandalism, Protections," Wikipedia Signpost, 
August 7, 2006, http://en.wikipedia.0rg/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2006-08-07/ 
Wikiality (accessed July 20, 2010). 

4. Wikipedia, "User:Stephancolbert," Wikipedia user page, https://secure.wikimedia. 
org/wikipedia/en/wiki/User:Stephencolbert (accessed July 20, 2010). 

5. Maham, "thru-you revolution live in wroclove," Radio Wroclove, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

6. Ophir Kutiel, "ThruYou," (accessed July 20, 2010). 

7. Galit Eilat, "Collaboration," lecture at the Dictionary of War conference, Novi Sad, 
January 25, 2008, available online at 
tion_%282%29 (accessed July 20, 2010). 

8. Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks 
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 5. 

9. Ippolita, Geert Lovink, and Ned Rossiter, "The Digital Given — 10 Web 2.0 Theses," 
net critique (blog), Institute of Network Cultures, June 15, 2009, http://networkcultures. 
ned-rossiter/ (accessed July 20, 2010). 

10. Etienne Wenger, Richard Arnold McDermott, and William Snyder, Cultivating 
Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 
2002), 4. 

11. See Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
2007), 76-80. 

12. Christopher M. Kelty, Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Durham: 
Duke University Press, 2008). 

13. Donna Haraway, "Birth of the Kennel: Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species," 
lecture at the European Graduate School, Leuk-Stadt, Switzerland, August 2000, avail- 
able online at 
(accessed July 20, 2010). 

14. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 63-86. 

What Is Collaboration Anyway? 67 

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Participating in the 
Always -On Lifestyle 


I love filling out surveys, but I'm always stumped when I'm asked 
how many hours per day I spend online. I mean, what counts as online? I 
try to answer this through subtraction. I start by subtracting the hours that I 
sleep (-7.5 if I'm lucky). But then a little bird in the back of my brain wonders 
whether or not sleeping with my iPhone next to my bed really counts. Or 
maybe it counts when I don't check it, but what about when I check Twit- 
ter in the middle of the night when I wake up from a dream? I subtract the 
time spent in the shower (0.5) because technology and water are not (yet) 
compatible. But that's as far as I can usually get. I don't always check Wikipe- 
dia during dinner, but when there's a disagreement, the interwebz are always 
there to save the day. And, I fully admit, I definitely surf the web while on the 

Y'see . . . I'm part of a cohort who is always-on. I consciously and loudly 
proclaim offline time through the declaration of e-mail sabbaticals when all 
content pushed my way is bounced rather than received. (There's nothing 
more satisfying than coming home from a vacation with an empty inbox and 
a list of people so desperate to reach me that they actually called my mother.) 
But this is not to say that I only have "a life" when I'm on digital sabbatical. 
I spend plenty of time socializing face-to-face with people, watching mov- 
ies, and walking through cities. And I even spend time doing things that 
I'd prefer not to — grocery shopping, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, 
and so on. All of these activities are not in and of themselves "online," but 
because of technology, the online is always just around the corner. I can look 
up information, multitask by surfing the web, and backchannel with friends. 
I'm not really online, in that my activities are not centered on the digital bits 
of the Internet, but I'm not really offline either. I'm where those concepts 
break down. It's no longer about on or off really. It's about living in a world 
where being networked to people and information wherever and whenever 


you need it is just assumed. I may not be always-on the Internet as we think 
of it colloquially, but I am always connected to the network. And that's what 
it means to be always-on. 

There is an irony to all of this. My always-on-ness doesn't mean that I'm 
always-accessible-to-everyone. Just because my phone buzzes to tell me that 
a new message has arrived does not mean that I bother to look at it. This is 
not because I'm antiphone but because I'm procontext. Different social con- 
texts mean different relationships to being always-on. They are not inher- 
ently defined by space but by a social construction of context in my own 
head. Sometimes I'm interruptible by anyone (like when I'm bored out of my 
mind at the DMV). But more often, I'm not interruptible because connection 
often means context shift, and only certain context shifts are manageable. 
So if I'm at dinner, I will look up a Wikipedia entry as a contribution to the 
conversation without checking my text messages. All channels are accessible, 
but it doesn't mean I will access them. 

I am not alone. Like many others around me, I am perpetually connected 
to people and information through a series of devices and social media chan- 
nels. This is often something that's described in generational terms, with 
"digital natives" being always-on and everyone else hobbling along trying to 
keep up with the technology. But, while what technology is available to each 
generation at key life stages keeps changing, being always-on isn't so cleanly 
generational. There are inequality issues that mean that plenty of youth sim- 
ply don't have access to the tools that I can afford. But economic capital is not 
the only factor. Being always-on works best when the people around you are 
always-on, and the networks of always-on-ers are defined more by values and 
lifestyle than by generation. In essence, being always-on started as a subcul- 
tural practice, and while it is gaining momentum, it is by no means universal. 
There are plenty of teens who have no interest in being perpetually connected 
to information and people even if they can. And there are plenty of us who 
are well beyond our teen years who are living and breathing digital bits for 
fun. That said, many of the young are certainly more willing to explore this 
lifestyle than are their techno-fretful parents. So while being young doesn't 
guarantee deep engagement with technology, it is certainly correlated. 

What separates those who are part of the always-on lifestyle from those 
who aren't is not often the use of specific tools. It's mostly a matter of 
approach. Instant messaging is a tool used by many but often in different 
ways and for different purposes. There are those who log in solely to com- 
municate with others. And there are those who use it to convey presence and 
state of mind. Needless to say, the latter is much more a part of the always- 


on ethos. Being always-on is not just about consumption and production 
of content but also about creating an ecosystem in which people can stay 
peripherally connected to one another through a variety of microdata. It's 
about creating networks and layering information on top. The goal of being 
connected is not simply to exchange high-signal content all the time. We also 
want all of the squishy gooey content that keeps us connected as people. In 
our world, phatic content like posting what you had for breakfast on Twitter 
is AOK. Cuz it can enhance the social context. Of course, some people do go 
too far. But that's what teasing is meant for. 

To an outsider, wanting to be always-on may seem pathological. All too 
often, it's labeled an addiction. The assumption is that we're addicted to the 
technology. The technology doesn't matter. It's all about the people and infor- 
mation. Humans are both curious and social critters. We want to understand 
and interact. Technology introduces new possibilities for doing so, and that's 
where the passion comes in. We're passionate about technology because 
we're passionate about people and information, and they go hand in hand. 
And once you're living in an always-on environment, you really notice what's 
missing when you're not. There's nothing I hate more than standing in a for- 
eign country with my iPhone in hand, unable to access Wikipedia because 
roaming on AT&T is so prohibitively expensive as to make the Internet inac- 
cessible. Instead, I find myself making lists of all the things that I want to 
look up when I can get online. 

It's not just about instant gratification either. Sure, I can look up who is 
buried in the Pantheon later. But the reason that I want to know when I'm 
standing before it in Italy is because I want to know about the object in front 
of me whose signs are all in Italian. I want to translate those signs, ask ques- 
tions about the architecture. And it's 4 a.m., and the guard tells me it's not his 
job to provide history lessons. What I want is to bring people and informa- 
tion into context. It's about enhancing the experience. 

Of course, this doesn't mean it can't get overwhelming. Cuz it does. And 
I'm not always good at managing the overload. My RSS-feed reader has 
exploded, and there's no way that I can keep up with the plethora of status 
updates and Twitter messages posted by friends, colleagues, and intriguing 
humans that I don't know. E-mail feels like a chore, and I do everything pos- 
sible to avoid having to log in to dozens of different sites to engage in conver- 
sations inside walled gardens. There's more news than I can possibly read on 
any given day. 

So how do I cope? Realistically, I don't. I've started accepting that there's 
no way that I can manage the onslaught of contact, wade through the mess, 

Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle 73 

and find the hidden gems. I haven't completely thrown my hands up though. 
Instead, I've decided to take a laissez-faire approach to social media. I do my 
best, and when that's not good enough, I rely on people bitching loud and 
clear to make me reprioritize. And then I assess whether or not I can address 
their unhappiness. And if I can't, I cringe and hope that it won't be too costly. 
And sometimes I simply declare bankruptcy and start over. 

As social media becomes increasingly pervasive in everyday life, more 
and more people will be overwhelmed by the information surrounding 
them. And they will have to make choices. Networked technologies allow us 
to extend our reach, to connect across space and time, to find people with 
shared interests and gather en masse for social and political purposes. But 
time and attention are scarce resources. Until we invent the sci-fi doohickey 
that lets us freeze time, no amount of aggregating and reorganizing will let us 
overcome the limitations presented by a scarcity of time and attention. 

In the meantime, many of us are struggling to find balance. We create 
artificial structures in an effort to get there. I take digital sabbaticals. Others 
create technologies that restrict them so that they don't have face hard deci- 
sions at points when they're potentially vulnerable. For example, late-night 
surfing from link to link to link can be so enjoyable that it's easy to forget to 
sleep. But biology isn't very forgiving, so sometimes a time-out is necessary. 

Many from the always-on crowd also try to embrace crazy strategies to 
optimize time as much as humanly possible. Proponents of polyphasic sleep 
argue that hacking your circadian rhythm can allow for more wake hours; 
I just think sleeping in small chunks means more loopy people out in the 
blogosphere. Of course, I fully admit that I've embraced the cult of GTD in 
an effort to reduce unnecessary cognitive load by doing inventories of vari- 
ous things. 

Hacking time, hacking biology, hacking cognition — these are all common 
traits of people who've embraced an always-on lifestyle. Many of us love the 
idea that we can build new synaptic structures through our use of networked 
technologies. While many old-skool cyberpunks wanted to live in a virtual 
reality, always-on folks are more interested in an augmented reality. We want 
to be a part of the network. 

There's no formula for embracing always-on practices, and we must 
each develop our own personal strategies for navigating a world with ever- 
increasing information. There are definitely folks who fail to find balance, 
but most of us find a comfortable way to fit these practices into everyday life 
without consequence. Of course, the process of finding balance may appear 
like we're feeling our way through a maze while blindfolded. We're all going 


to bump into a lot of things along the way and have to reassess where we're 
going when we reach our own personal edges. But, in doing so, we will per- 
sonalize the media rich environment to meet our needs and desires. 

Social media skeptics often look at the output of those who are engag- 
ing with the newfangled services and shake their heads. "How can they be 
so public?" some ask. Others reject digital performances by asking, "Who 
wants to read what they want anyhow?" Publicness is one of the strange and 
yet powerful aspects of this new world. Many who blog and tweet are not 
writing for the world at large; they are writing for the small group who might 
find it relevant and meaningful. And, realistically, the world at large is not 
reading the details of their lives. Instead, they are taking advantage of the 
affordances of these technologies to connect with others in a way that they 
feel is appropriate. 

Each technology has its affordances, and what's powerful about certain 
technology often stems from these affordances. Consider asynchronicity, 
an affordance of many social media tools. Years ago, I interviewed an HIV- 
positive man who started blogging. When I asked him about his decision to 
start, he told me that it helped him navigate social situations in a more com- 
fortable manner. He did not use his real name on his blog, but his friends all 
knew where to find the blog. On this site, he wrote about his ups and downs 
with his illness, and his friends read this. He found that such a mediator 
allowed him to negotiate social boundaries with friends in new ways. He no 
longer had to gauge the appropriateness of the situation to suddenly declare 
his T-cell count. Likewise, his friends didn't have to overcome their uncer- 
tainty in social situations to ask about his health. He could report when he 
felt comfortable doing so, and they could read when they were prepared to 
know. This subtle shift in how he shared information with friends and how 
friends consumed it eased all sorts of tensions. Technology doesn't simply 
break social conventions — it introduces new possibilities for them. 

It's also typically assumed that being always-on means facing severe per- 
sonal or professional consequences. There is fear that participating in a pub- 
lic culture can damage one's reputation or that constant surfing means the 
loss of focus or that always having information at hand will result in a failure 
to actually know things. But aren't we living in a world where knowing how 
to get information is more important than memorizing it? Aren't we mov- 
ing away from an industrial economy into an information one? Creativity 
is shaped more by the ability to make new connections than to focus on a 
single task. And why shouldn't we all have the ability to be craft our identity 
in a public culture? Personally, I've gained more professionally from being 

Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle 75 

public than I could have dreamed possible when I started blogging in 1997. 
For example, l'il ol' me had no idea that blogging controversial ideas backed 
with data might get me an invitation to the White House. 

Ironically, the publicness of social media also provides privacy in new 
ways. Many of those who embrace the public aspects of social media find that 
the more public they are, the more they can carve off privacy. When people 
assume you share everything, they don't ask you about what you don't share. 
There are also ways to embed privacy in public in ways that provide a unique 
form of control over the setting. Certainly, people have always had private 
conversations while sitting in public parks. And queer culture is rife with 
stories of how gay and lesbian individuals signaled to one another in public 
arenas through a series of jewelry, accessories, and body language. Likewise, 
in -jokes are only meaningful to those who are in the know, whether they are 
shared in a group or online. And there are all sorts of ways to say things out 
loud that are only heard by a handful of people. These become tricks of the 
trade, skills people learn as they begin fully engaging in an always-on public 

Being always-on and living a public life through social media may com- 
plicate our lives in new ways, but participating can also enrich the tapestry 
of life. Those of us who are living this way can be more connected to those 
whom we love and move in sync with those who share our interests. The 
key to this lifestyle is finding a balance, a rhythm that moves us in ways that 
make us feel whole without ripping our sanity to shreds. I've lived my entire 
adult life in a world of networked information and social media. At times, 
I'm completely overwhelmed, but when I hit my stride, I feel like an ethe- 
real dancer, energized by the connections and ideas that float by. And there's 
nothing like being connected and balanced to make me feel alive and in love 
with the world at large. 



From Indymedia to Demand Media 

Journalism's Visions of Its Audience 
and the Horizons of Democracy 


This chapter focuses on journalism — a particular subcategory of 
media production where user-generated content has been adopted in sig- 
nificant but contested ways. Underlying the chapter is a more general claim 
that the tensions within U.S. journalism have relevance for understanding 
broader categories of media work. Building on earlier ethnographic work 
in newsrooms, the chapter contends that a fundamental transformation has 
occurred in journalists' understanding of their relationship to their audi- 
ences and that a new level of responsiveness to the agenda of the audience is 
becoming built into the DNA of contemporary newswork. This new journal- 
istic responsiveness to the "people formerly known as the audience" is often 
contrasted with an earlier understanding of the news audience by journal- 
ists, the so-called traditional or professional view, in which the wants and 
desires of audience members are subordinated to journalists' expert news 
judgment about the stories that audience members need to know. In much 
of the popular rhetoric surrounding "Web 2.0" journalists' newfound audi- 
ence responsiveness is represented as a democratic advance over older pro- 
fessional models, with the increasing journalistic attention paid to audience 
wants framed as concomitant with the general democratizing trends afforded 
by the Internet. 

The primary claim of this chapter is that this simple dichotomy between 
audience ignorance and audience responsiveness obscures as much as it 
reveals and that multiple, complex, and contradictory visions of the news 
audience are buried within popular understandings of the relationship 
between journalism and Web 2.0. The chapter builds on work by writers as 
diverse as John Battelle 1 and Helen Nissenbaum, 2 who have convincingly 
argued that diverse socio-material combinations of technology, organiza- 
tional structure, and human intentionality afford diverse democratic potenti- 


alities and prefigure distinct publics; in particular, I argue that diverse mate- 
rializations of the audience not only afford distinct publics but also stand as 
an intermediary between visions of an audience-as-public and the relation- 
ship between audiences and democracy. In short, the manner in which jour- 
nalists imagine their audience has public consequences, and the relationship 
between audience responsiveness and democracy involves particular, not 
necessarily compatible, understandings of what democratic practice actually 

To flesh out these arguments, this chapter adopts a method that is primar- 
ily historio-critical and, following Max Weber, discusses ideal-types. 3 1 trace 
the conception of audience in three outsider journalistic movements span- 
ning the forty years since Watergate: the public journalism movement, the 
citizen journalism movement known as Indymedia, and, finally, the quasi- 
journalistic company Demand Media. While my arguments are primarily 
synthetic, each of my case studies stems from previous empirical scholarship: 
four years of newsroom fieldwork in Philadelphia, seven years of partici- 
pant-observation with Indymedia collectives in New York City, and lengthy 
research into both the public journalism movement and, more recently, the 
growth of Demand Media and other so-called news content farms. Elaborat- 
ing on this analysis, the second section of this chapter ties different visions 
of the audience into distinct strands of democratic theory. In this section, 
I hope to demonstrate how an embrace of "the people formerly known as 
the audience" can mean very different things, depending on the larger social 
and political context in which this articulation occurs. The chapter concludes 
with some general reflections on the implications of concepts like algo- 
rithmic public and algorithmic democracy, concepts which seem to be key 
socio-material categories in the digital era. 

Journalism and Audiences 
The Professional View 

The relationship between the audience and the news industry examined 
here is not one in which media messages "impact" the audience in particular 
ways; nor is it one in which an audience "interprets" media messages in a 
variety of ways, depending on a variety of personal and demographic fac- 
tors. Rather, the newsroom activities in this study are an example of what 
Joseph Turow has called the "industrial construction" of audiences: 4 "the 
ways that the people who create [media] materials think of" the people who 
consume that media, which in turn has "important implications for the texts 


that viewers and readers receive in the first place." 5 As journalistic visions of 
the audience for journalism shift, these new visions ultimately affect editorial 

Herbert Gans's landmark study Deciding What's News 6 has shaped the 
conventional academic wisdom regarding the relationship between journal- 
ists and their audiences for several decades. This 1979 ethnographic study of 
news-making processes at CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, 
and Time usefully distinguished between "qualitative" (letters to the editor 
and to individual journalists) and "quantitative" (audience research studies) 
forms of feedback. 7 Gans notes, 

I began this study with the assumption that journalists, as commercial 
employees, take the audience directly into account when selecting and 
producing news. ... I was surprised to find, however, that they had lit- 
tle knowledge about the actual audience and rejected feedback from it. 
Although they had a vague image of the audience, they paid little attention 
to it; instead, they filmed and wrote for their superiors and themselves, 
assuming, as I suggested earlier, that what interested them would interest 
the audience. 8 

Gans argues that multiple factors play a role in journalists' relative discon- 
nect from their audience: an inability to intellectually imagine an audience 
of millions of people, a distrust of audience news judgment, and the division 
between the editorial and marketing departments (creating a situation in 
which business personnel and news editors create a buffer between journal- 
ists and their audience). The key values in tension in Gans's study are profes- 
sional incentives versus commercial imperatives. Journalists, adds Gans, are 
reluctant to accept any procedure which casts doubt on their professional 
autonomy. Within the boundaries of his study, professional values remain 
strong, and the preferences and needs of the audience are largely neglected 
during the news-making process. 

It should be noted that Gans does nuance his observations to some degree. 
Gans writes that "in the last analysis, news organizations are overseen by cor- 
porate executives who are paid to show a profit, . . . [and] if corporate eco- 
nomic well-being is threatened, executives may insist that their news organi- 
zations adapt." 9 Additionally, Gans notes that local news production (which 
was not part of his 1979 study) has always been more sensitive to commer- 
cial and audience pressures than has national news. Despite these qualifica- 
tions, most of the research from what Barbie Zelizer has called the golden 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 79 

era of newsroom ethnography, 10 has echoed Gans's conclusions about the 
relative unimportance of the news audience to journalistic judgment. "Audi- 
ence images," James Ettema et al. summarize, "seem to have minor influence 
on journalistic performance relative to other potential influence sources." 11 
And while some scholars 12 have argued that the audience plays a larger role 
in shaping the news than is generally assumed by most ethnographers and 
media sociologists, even these authors have generally acknowledged that this 
shaping force is still the product of an "incomplete" understanding of the 
audience, one which is "not keyed in to demographic information." 13 

"The People Formerly Known as the Audience" 

A radically new attitude toward audiences, emerging in recent years along- 
side the rise of digital technologies, social media, and user-generated content, 
can be referred to by the helpful new-media maxim 14 "the people formerly 
known as the audience." First articulated by media theorist and NYU pro- 
fessor Jay Rosen in an influential blogpost, the notion of "the former audi- 
ence" and its relationship to journalism ultimately revolves around a series of 
digital technologies that shift the direction of communication from a one-to- 
many broadcasting system to a many-to-many conversational system. These 
technologies include social media like online commenting systems and Face- 
book, media for creative personal expression like blogs and podcasts, and new 
channels of distribution like Twitter. Rosen argues that this passively recep- 
tive audience is no longer the model for thinking about media consumption, 
especially when this new model treats consumption itself as part of the pro- 
duction of media. He writes that "the people formerly known as the audience 
. . . are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one 
way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms compet- 
ing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation 
from one another — and who today are not in a situation like that at all." 15 All 
of these changes, Rosen and many others have argued, are impacting the pro- 
fession of journalism, a profession whose autonomy was ultimately grounded 
in the kind of closed, mostly one-way system of communication now being 
displaced by the old model. 16 Although the notion of professionalized news 
decisions discussed in detail by Gans and others aren't usually directly cited in 
discussions of this new image of the audience, it seems likely that the practice 
of journalists "filming and writing for their superiors and themselves, assum- 
ing . . . that what interested them would interest the audience" 17 is one of the 
professional behaviors under serious stress in the new media environment. 


Nevertheless, most of the recent scholarship examining whether the 
explosion of social media has affected journalism's agenda-setting function 
presents something of a mixed picture, 18 with a number of studies demon- 
strating the continued power of professional journalists to "decide what's 
news." 19 Other research has documented that many journalistic websites, 
while happy to adopt particular social media tools, have held back from a 
full-throated embrace of "the people formerly known as the audience." 20 

In light of this emerging class of empirical findings, it is important to 
add some historical and theoretical nuance to the perhaps overly simplistic 
dichotomy between a vision of the "people formerly knows as audience" and 
traditional journalistic professionalism. Two analyses in the pages that follow 
elaborate on what the audience is and how it has related to news production. 
First, I trace the conception of audience in three nontraditional journalistic 
experiments: the public journalism movement, the radical collective-report- 
ing movement known as Indymedia, and, finally, the much-discussed media 
company Demand Media. Second, I tie these visions of the audience into 
distinct strands of democratic theory, to show how even an overt embrace of 
"the people formerly known as the audience" can mean very different things, 
depending on the context in which this embrace occurs. 

Alternative Understandings of News Audiences: 
Public Journalism, Indymedia, Demand Media 

The three organizations and movements I discuss in this section — public 
journalism, Indymedia, and Demand Media — should not be seen as repre- 
sentative in any meaningful sense. Rather, they might better serve as the- 
oretical ideal types, in which particular characteristics of social reality are 
emphasized in order to create a class of abstract categories, categories which 
can then be used as the basis for further, less abstract empirical research. 
Each of these three institutions and movements has its own large analyti- 
cal academic literature, and my brief description of them here should not be 
seen as comprehensive. For further information, readers are encouraged to 
follow the cited works. 

The public journalism movement has been called "the best organized 
social movement inside journalism in the history of the American press" 
and has an institutional, theoretical, and practical history 21 Institutionally, 
public journalism was a professional reform movement that emerged within 
the American press in the late 1980s, with its heyday in the early to mid- 
1990s, and which, as a distinct movement, can be said to have ended in the 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 81 

first years of the twenty-first century. Theoretically public journalism drew 
on strands of deliberative and participatory democratic theory arguing that 
post- Watergate journalism had grown overly concerned with representing 
the points of view of political insiders, trucked in corrosive cynicism about 
the meaning and importance of political life, and lacked any meaningful 
understanding of journalism's relationship to democracy 22 Critics contended 
that political journalism was overly obsessed with "horse-race" coverage and 
polls to the detriment of the coverage of actual public issues. As an antidote, 
public journalism reformers 23 argued that journalists should acknowledge 
themselves as democratic actors, should help create a public rather than just 
inform it, and should embrace a thick concept of democratic life centering 
on political deliberation rather than simply on elections and polls. Practi- 
cally, public journalists working inside newsrooms undertook a number of 
professional and reportorial experiments in the heyday of the movement, 
including sponsoring deliberative forums to help highlight issues that local 
communities thought worthy of news coverage and sponsoring special elec- 
tion initiatives designed to transcend horse-race political reporting. Public 
journalism experiments were explicitly adopted at various newspapers, most 
notably the Witchita-Eagle. 24 On the broadest philosophical level, public 
journalism advocates explicitly cited Jiirgen Habermas's notions of delibera- 
tive democracy and John Dewey's invocation of community conversation as 
normative principles that should guide journalistic coverage. 

With the popularization and spread of the World Wide Web in the mid- 
1990s and an upsurge in left-wing social-movement activity in 1999 around 
the somewhat uneasily titled "antiglobalization movement," a new, less gen- 
teel challenge to traditional journalism emerged as a cluster of radically 
participatory citizen journalism websites grouped under the banner of the 
Indymedia movement. Indymedia's slogan sums up much of its emphasis 
during these years: "Don't hate the media, become the media." First launched 
during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Indymedia 
was characterized by its strong political agenda, its decentralized and local- 
ized structure (there were Indymedia Centers (IMCs) in more than 150 cities 
worldwide at the movement's peak), and its notion of radically participatory 
journalism. As described by Biella Coleman, 

Indymedia centers are run as local collectives that manage and coordi- 
nate a news website; some also operate an affiliated media resource center 
for local activists. These websites give any user of the site (regardless of 
whether or not they are part of the collective) the ability to create, publish, 


and access news reports of various forms — text, photo, video, and audio. 
The result is a free online source for unfiltered, direct journalism by activ- 
ists, sometimes uploaded in the heat of the moment during a demonstra- 
tion or political action. . . . Where traditional journalism holds editorial 
policies that are hidden in the hands of a few trained experts, Indymedia 
provides the alternative of "open publishing," a democratic process of cre- 
ating news that is transparent and accessible to all, challenging the separa- 
tion between consumers and producers of news. 25 

Unlike the public journalism movement, which was a reform move- 
ment primarily directed at journalistic professionals, Indymedia argued for 
a deprofessionalized vision of citizen journalism in which people would be 
their own reporters. And unlike the public journalism movement, which 
was relatively self-reflective about the theoretical underpinnings of various 
interventions into spheres of journalistic practice, Indymedia spokespeople 
were more likely to critique the operations of global capitalism from an anar- 
chist or Marxist perspective rather than theorize deeply about their own 
status as new journalistic actors. Nevertheless, as we will see momentarily, 
it is certainly possible to reconstruct Indymedia's basic understanding of 
how it operated as a journalistic reform movement and how it related to its 

The first decade of the twenty-first century marks the beginning, but not 
necessarily the end, of a period of fundamental transformation in the worlds 
of journalism and digital technology. Starting in 1999 and continuing to the 
present, many authors and academics have chronicled the virtual disintegra- 
tion of the American business model for local news under the impact of digi- 
tal technologies and shifting patterns of advertising, 26 a precipitous decline 
in the cultural authority of traditional journalists (whose credentials were 
challenged by journalism thinkers and by an army of so-called citizen jour- 
nalists), 27 and an explosion in the practices of audience measurement and 
behavioral tracking afforded by the digital traceability of the Internet. Of 
these three developments it is the increased ability of news organizations to 
monitor their audiences which has the most relevance for my discussion of a 
third outlier: algorithmic journalism. 

The material traceability afforded by the web 28 presents journalism with a 
fundamentally new series of professional challenges and economic opportu- 
nities. All user behavior on a website is potentially capturable for analysis by 
server logfiles, and "whether the audience realizes it or not, their activity is 
tracked." 29 As journalism analyst Steve Outing noted in 2005, while report- 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 83 

ers and editors at the news organizations analyzed by Gans operated largely 
in ignorance of their audience, "newspaper Web sites . . . have detailed traf- 
fic numbers at their disposal. Today's news editors know for a fact if sports 
articles are the biggest reader draw, or if articles about local crimes consis- 
tently outdraw political news. They can know how particular stories fared, 
and track the popularity of news topics." 30 While a growing body of research 
has documented the impact online metrics are having on newsrooms, an 
even more powerful form of quantitative journalistic decision-making has 
explicitly focused on base audience preferences. These companies learn what 
the audience searches for online, consider which of these will make them the 
most money, and choose their subjects solely on these computer-generated 
metrics. This methodology is powered by algorithmic intelligence, and the 
key practitioners of this new, algorithm-based technique of "deciding what's 
news" include communications companies like Demand Media, Seed, and 
Associated Content. 31 

In a widely discussed article, Daniel Roth of Wired magazine describes 
the role played by algorithms in both Demand Media's production and labor- 
compensation processes: 

Demand Media has created a virtual factory that pumps out 4,000 video 
clips and articles a day. It starts with an algorithm. The algorithm is fed 
inputs from three sources: Search terms (popular terms from more than 
100 sources comprising 2 billion searches a day), The ad market (a snap- 
shot of which keywords are sought after and how much they are fetch- 
ing), and The competition (what's online already and where a term ranks in 
search results). 

Plenty of other companies —, Mahalo, — have 
tried to corner the market in arcane online advice. But none has gone 
about it as aggressively, scientifically, and single-mindedly as Demand. 
Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based 
on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which 
mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and key- 
word rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertis- 
ers will pay to appear next to the answers. 

The process is automatic, random, and endless. ... It is a database of 
human needs. 32 

This chapter has argued that the dichotomy between professional and 
responsive visions of the news audience is overly simplistic and has sought 


to highlight the actual complexity of news audience visions by discuss- 
ing three outsider journalistic movements and organizations. Each of these 
movements can be seen as posing its own vision of journalism's relation- 
ship with its audience, visions that deeply complicate simplistic distinctions 
between audience power and audience irrelevance. In the next section I want 
to unpack these journalist-audience visions, before concluding with discus- 
sion of how these visions ultimately ground themselves in differing notions 
of communication and democracy. 

A Genealogy of the Journalism-Audience Relationship 

These four ideal-typical paradigms of journalistic practice — traditional jour- 
nalism, public journalism, Indymedia journalism, and algorithmic journal- 
ism — offer very different models of audience. These models conceive of their 
audiences and their relationship to democracy in terms that have changed 
over time. In order to understand this shift, we need to ask how each of them 

• thinks about the relationship between the news audience and journalistic 

• thinks about the relationship of the audience to itself; and 

• thinks about the relationship between the audience and political institutions. 

It is helpful to organize this analysis in a table, with the four paradigms 
along the left side and the three perspectives on journalism, audiences, and 
politics along the top (table 7.1). From the perspective of professional journal- 
ism, news audiences are seen as rather ignorant consumers of media con- 
tent; they are thus ignorant of both what news really "is" and what journalists 
do. Under this view, the agenda for what counts as news is determined by 
professional journalists, who provide it to an audience that can choose to 
either accept or reject it. The fact that professional journalists envision their 
audience as both "consumptive" and "easy to ignore" points to a tension that 
lies at the heart of this vision. Few producers (of media or other forms of 
consumer products) will operate under a consumption regime and yet argue 
that the consumers have little role to play in the determining the shape of 
the products they buy. Yet this is essentially the argument that traditional 
journalism has made. It is this tension that has periodically manifested itself 
in the battle between news professionals, who argue that journalism must 
provide the information citizens need ("citizens must eat their spinach"), and 
news populists, who argue that journalism must give an audience what it 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 85 

TABLE 7.1 

Journalistic Models and Their Visions of the New Audience 

The audience's 

The audience's 

The audience's 

relationship to 

internal relationship 

relationship to 

journalism as . . . 

to itself as . . . 

politics as . . . 






agenda receiving, 



sees . . . 

occasionally as 



A conversational 

engaged, com- 


agenda setting 


municative via 

sees . . . 




agonistic, witness- 

engaged, con- 


agenda setting; 

ing, and occupying 


sees . . . 

journalism pro- 
vides audience 
with "ammunition" 

public sphericules 



agenda setting, 






sees . . . 


wants (and that any journalism in the public interest needs to coat itself in a 
wrapper of audience friendliness). The controversy is somewhat overdrawn, 
yet it speaks to a general truth. Journalists who see themselves as producers 
of consumer content would be expected to care deeply about what an army 
of news consumers wants. 

In this analytic framework, members of professional journalisms atom- 
ized consumptive audience are discrete individuals who, in the tradition of 
both classic liberalism and market theory both consume news and relate 
to each other in an individualized, utilitarian fashion. It is this vision of the 
audience that was the primary target of reformers in the public journalism 
movement; rather than an aggregate collection of autonomous individu- 
als, the audience should be conceived as relating to itself as a conversational 
public. As Tanni Haas notes, visions of an audience composed of "engaged, 
responsible 'citizens' who are capable of active, democratic participation" 33 
mirror James Carey's argument that "the public will begin to reawaken when 



they are addressed as conversational partners and are encouraged to join the 
talk rather than sit passively as spectators before a discussion conducted by 
journalists and experts." 34 For theorists of public journalism, the audience 
relates to itself not as a collection of consumptive individuals but as a col- 
lection of citizens engaged in public dialogue about the important political 
issues of the day 

If, according to theorists of public journalism, the audience relates to itself 
as a deliberative body of citizens, then its relationship to the journalism pro- 
fession must also be not only deliberative but potentially agenda setting as 
well. While most of public journalism's early reform efforts were directed at 
forcing the journalism establishment to see itself as an institution implicated 
in acts of public "creation" as well as public "inform-ation," questions quickly 
arose as to how reporters should engage with the agenda of that assembled 
public. Should local deliberative councils, convened by newspapers as part of 
public journalism initiatives, determine the topics covered by those newspa- 
pers? Or were they simply meant as feel-good exercises in mutual enlighten- 
ment? Should the deliberative citizenry be agenda setting? It was this tension 
that Michael Schudson pointed to when he claimed that public journalism 
does not remove control over the news from journalists themselves, . . . [and] 
in this regard, public journalism as a reform movement is conservative. . . . 
[It] stops short of offering a fourth model of journalism in a democracy, one 
in which authority is vested not in the market, not in a party, and not in jour- 
nalists, but in the public. Nothing in public journalism removes the power 
from the journalists or the corporations they work for. 35 

It seems safe to summarize that the audience envisioned by public journal- 
ism theorists was thus both deliberative and agenda setting in a weak sense. 
Ultimately, the relationship between the audience-as-public and the insti- 
tutions of journalism was mediated by highly formal mechanisms: public 
meetings, deliberative polls, and special reports. It was this formal character 
of the journalist-audience relationship that was shattered by the technologi- 
cal affordances 36 enabled by the Internet and the spread of digital produc- 
tion and distribution devices. I have summarized these developments, and 
the new vision of the audience that emerged with them, under the general 
category of "Indymedia journalism," although I think this shifting audience 
conception can be generalized to include many of the early experiments 
in digital content creation (blogs, citizen journalism websites, and so on). 
For Indymedia activists and theorists, the audience was not only strongly 
implicated in setting the news agenda, but the very distinction between a 
consumptive and agenda- setting audience was blurred to the point of non- 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 87 

existence. 37 This blurring was the result of Indymedia's highly participatory 
character. In exhorting activists to "be the media," the promise was that 
ordinary people would create their own news agenda through the very act 
of doing journalism itself. The journalism undertaken by Indymedia's pre- 
sumptive 38 audience, finally, could not be separated from that audience's 
political activity. It would serve as a weapon in a variety of social-movement 
struggles and political protests. 

This view of journalism as "political ammunition" was closely tied to 
Indymedia's status as a collection of left-wing social movements. A compari- 
son with the audience envisioned by theorists of public journalism might be 
instructive here. Rather than a deliberative audience engaged in the civil dis- 
cussion of political issues in order to advance the public good, Indymedia 
saw its audience as a rowdy collection of political partisans acting in support 
of a particular (yet still valuable) good. Or as John Durham Peters noted, in 
reference to the deliberative pretensions of public journalism, 

Public journalism is right to call for better sources of information and 
fresher forums of debate. But . . . the insistence on dialogue undervalues 
those modes of action that defy and interrupt conversation. St. Francis and 
Martin Luther King bore witness; they did not engage in conversation. Any 
account of democracy has to make room for moral stuntsmanship, for out- 
rageous acts of attention getting employed by an Ezekiel or Gandhi, greens, 
antinuke activists, or even right-to-lifers. . . . Just as there is a dignity in dia- 
logue, there can be a dignity in refusing to engage in dialog as well. 39 

It was the Indymedia movement which embodied this vision of the 
"witnessing," "stunt- oriented" public and sought to apply it to journalism. 
Finally, Indymedia never claimed to represent the public, as proponents of 
public journalism did. Indeed, for Indymedia theorists, the very existence 
of such a public was an illusion. Following in the tradition of Nancy Fraser 
and Todd Gitlin, Indymedia activists saw themselves as producing journal- 
ism for a particular set of public sphericules 40 — related to, but irreducible 
to, the larger public as a whole. They were the journalistic mouthpieces of a 
loosely connected series of "subaltern counterpublics" 41 or, in less formalized 
language, represented the return of the eighteenth- century party press to the 
journalistic stage. 42 The Indymedia vision of the audience was of an agonis- 
tic, agenda- setting, deeply participatory, fractured public. 

With the emergence of Demand Media and its "content-farm" coun- 
terparts, the affordances of the Internet have swung from participation to 


traceability and algorithmically oriented production. These forms of algo- 
rithmic journalism once again establish the wall between producer and con- 
sumer. While Demand Media's producers are multitudinous, the relationship 
between them and the central office is the relationship between a highly pre- 
carious freelancer and his or her employer, rather than that of the intrinsi- 
cally motivated creator to the object of his or her temporary affiliation. This 
reintegration of the producer/consumer wall does not disempower the audi- 
ence, however, for its wishes and wants are presumed to be understood bet- 
ter than ever before. As Demand Media founder Richard Rosenblatt noted 
in an interview with Jay Rosen, "We respect journalists very much. We think 
they need to use technology to help them figure out what audiences want 
and how to get value from their content more effectively. And there are big 
opportunities for them to increase quality by removing inefficiencies in the 
process of content creation." 43 The agenda-setting vision of the audience, 
common to both public journalism and Indymedia journalism, is combined 
with a consumptive, atomistic, and quantifiable vision of the audience taken 
from the professional model of journalism. Unlike the professional model, 
however, the tension between the vision of the audience as a consumptive 
organism and as subject to a professionally determined concept of "what 
counts" as important content is eliminated, in a direction entirely favorable 
to the audience. If the audiences needs and wants are entirely knowable, than 
why should they not be catered to, particularly if catering to those wants can 
lead to the implementation of a highly successful business model? The ulti- 
mate traceability of audience wants is determined through the algorithm, a 
complex and mathematically grounded socio-material black box that seems 
to do far more than simply aggregate preferences. In the vision of the audi- 
ence embraced by Demand Media and its counterparts, the algorithm is a 
stand-in for journalistic judgment, and it eviscerates the barriers between 
content production and consumer demand. According to this new genera- 
tion of algorithm-based news producers, it is in number crunching that the 
ultimate guarantor of both communicative democracy and business-model 
success can be found. 

Democratic Horizons of the Journalism-Audience Relationship 

In this final section, I want to tie each of the four ideal-typical visions dis- 
cussed in this essay to particular visions of democracy. In this endeavor, I am 
inspired by the public journalism movement, which — alone among the mod- 
els I have discussed — made its normative democratic commitments both 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 89 

transparent and central to its organizing strategy. In this moment of pro- 
found journalistic upheaval I am convinced we need to supplement our very 
understandable debates over newsroom business models with a brief discus- 
sion of what kind of democracy we want our business models to serve. As I 
have articulated in this essay, traditional journalism understands democracy 
as an aggregative process. Public journalism, in opposition, puts forward a 
deliberative democratic model, while Indymedia theorists see democracy as 
a primarily agonistic exercise. Algorithmic journalism embraces an "algo- 
rithmic" understanding of democratic processes. It is this algorithmic vision 
of democracy that might represent the most intellectually interesting, if 
unsettling, model for both communication and democracy. 

Public journalism embraced a strongly normative, deliberative conception 
of democracy. In it, the legitimacy of political decision-making is assumed to 
rest only on the force of the superior argument, advanced within a public 
sphere to which all potential participants have access. It is a process within 
which legitimation is forged through conversation and the dynamic process 
of mutual reason giving and preference formation that emerges out of that 
conversation. Operating from within the tradition of normative political the- 
ory, Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson define deliberative democracy as 

a form of government in which free and equal citizens (and their repre- 
sentatives) justify decisions in a process in which they give each other rea- 
sons that are mutually acceptable and generally acceptable, with the aim 
of reaching conclusions that are binding in the present on all citizens but 
open to challenge in the future. 44 

Public journalism advocates, and particularly its practitioners working 
within newsrooms in the 1980s and '90s, drew on the ideas of John Dewey, 
Turgen Habermas, and James Carey in drawing the connection between their 
journalistic practices and their vision of democracy. As Cole Campbell, editor 
of the Virginia- Pilot and later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told his colleagues at 
a forum in 1995, "To Dewey, the journalist is, at her best, a catalyst of conversa- 
tion, and insiders and citizens alike are active participants in that conversation. 
The conversation in the end is the medium of democracy, not newspapers." 45 

Deliberative democracy, embraced by theorists and practitioners of pub- 
lic journalism, is best understood in contrast to both aggregative democracy 
(the default democratic vision of news traditionalists) and agonistic democ- 
racy, the democratic understanding advanced by Indymedia's citizen- report- 
ers. Gutmann and Thompson define aggregative democracy this way: 


The aggregative conception [of democracy], in contrast [to deliberative 
democracy], takes preferences as a given (though some versions would 
correct preferences based on misinformation). It requires no justification 
for the preferences themselves, but seeks only to combine them in ways 
that are efficient and fair. Under an aggregative conception of democracy, 
how should governments make decisions? . . . Aggregative theories offer 
two seemingly different but closely related methods. The first is a form of 
majoritarianism: put the question to the people and let them vote (or let 
them record their preferences in public opinion surveys. . . . Under the 
second method, officials take note of the expressed preferences but put 
them through an analytic filter. 46 

Unlike the theorists of public journalism, supporters of traditional pro- 
fessional journalism do not typically declare their allegiance to aggregative 
democracy. As the default democratic setting in both the United States and 
in journalism itself, they have no need to. Under this democratic vision, jour- 
nalists are primarily counted on to provide the information, and to correct 
the misinformation, that is relied on by citizens to register informed prefer- 
ences that will then be aggregated through either the political processes or in 
surveys. These traditional journalism institutions, as their primary contribu- 
tion to democratic processes outside information provision, also occasion- 
ally conduct and report on public-opinion polls that provide a "snapshot" of 
the aggregative preferences of the public. Operating as atomistic individuals, 
citizens consume both information and media products that they then use to 
make political choices. 

For most of the 1980s and '90s the dominant conceptions of democracy 
were either conversational or aggregative, and public journalism was the pri- 
mary challenger to traditional journalistic practice. I want to argue that a 
third vision of democracy reemerged with the Indymedia movement in the 
first years of the twenty-first century, a vision that can be generally described 
as agonistic. Chantal Mouffe has been the primary proponent of this idea 
of democracy, contrasting it explicitly with Habermasian visions of political 
consensus achieved via deliberative talk and reason giving. Mouffe writes, 

A well-functioning democracy calls for a vibrant clash of democratic polit- 
ical positions. If this is missing there is the danger that this democratic 
confrontation will be replaced by a confrontation among other forms of 
collective identification, as is the case with identity politics. Too much 
emphasis on consensus and the refusal of confrontation lead to apathy and 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 91 

disaffection with political participation. ... It is for that reason that the 
ideal of a pluralist democracy cannot be to reach a rational consensus in 
the public sphere. Such a consensus cannot exist. 47 

For Mouffe, disagreement is an unavoidable aspect of a democratic poli- 
tics that does not efface difference. 

For Indymedia journalists, like generations of political journalists before 
them, participatory journalism is fused with a vision of contentious politics 
that deemphasizes deliberation and reason giving (particularly when compared 
to deliberative notions of politics) and focuses primarily on protest, conflict, 
and challenge to authority. It is a radical form of citizen journalism far closer to 
what Peters, quoted earlier, called "[bearing] witness, . . . moral stuntsmanship, 
[and] outrageous acts of attention getting." As Bonnie Honighas written, 

The radical- pluralist approach finds its justification above all as a critique 
of political theorists that measure their success by the elimination of dis- 
sonance and conflict. Instead of confining politics to the tasks of building 
consensus or consolidating communities and identities, the radical plural- 
ist approach aims to shift the emphasis of democratic politics to the pro- 
cesses of dislocation, contestation and resistance. 48 

This agonistic vision of democracy has a far greater resonance with highly 
politicized slices of citizen journalistic practice and "the contentious blogo- 
sphere" 49 than do either deliberative or aggregative theories. 

The public vision embedded in theories of algorithmic journalism, finally, 
is not reducible to aggregative, deliberative, or agonistic forms of democratic 
life. As Daniel Roth noted earlier, Demand Media articles "are not dreamed up 
by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead 
they are assigned by an algorithm" based off of user search requests and the 
prices that Demand Media can get for advertising on those pages. Roth calls it 
a "a database of human needs," though it should be added that it is specifically 
a database only of the profitable human needs. The audience described here 
is certainly not deliberative in a Habermasian sense, 50 nor is it agonistic in the 
manner conceived by Indymedia partisans at the dawn of the read-write web. 
If it is an aggregative audience, it is aggregative in a profoundly new way. 

It is certainly possible to argue that companies like Demand Media have 
no relationship to democracy at all. Their organizational spokespeople would 
certainly make such a claim. But it seems to me that the vision of an algorith- 
mic audience, as imagined by these emerging journalistic organizations, has 


deeply political implications. Seen though the window of these new content 
farms and search engines, the algorithmic audience exists as highly trace- 
able data, its every preference simultaneously known, denuded, and invis- 
ible. Its desires are "understood" through a complex assemblage of people, 
machines, and mathematical formulae. Its essence lies buried inside large- 
scale data sets. It appears to be endlessly quantifiable. And I would argue that 
the conception of the public that lies at the heart of this algorithmic view of 
the audience, instantiated at least in a preliminary form by Demand Media 
and similar companies, is a concept worthy of serious analysis. Though this 
analysis cannot begin here, I would argue that it is worth undertaking. Such 
a study would contribute to a "sociology of algorithms," and this sociology of 
algorithms could, in turn, represent a new analytic horizon for communica- 
tions scholarship in the twenty-first century 51 


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From Indymedia to Demand Media 93 

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37. Chris Atton, in Alternative Media (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), has argued that 
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38. A. Bruns, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage 
(New York: Lang, 2008). 

39. J. D. Peters, "Public Journalism and Democratic Theory: Four Challenges," in The 
Idea of Public Journalism, ed. T. Glasser, 99-117 (New York: Guilford, 1999), 105-106. 

40. T. Gitlin, "Public Sphere or Public Sphericules?," in Media, Ritual and Identity, ed. T. 
Liebes and J. Curran, 168-174 (London and New York: Routledge, 1998). 

41. N. Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actu- 
ally Existing Democracy," Social Text 25-26 (1990): 67. 

42. Schudson, "What Public Journalism Knows about Journalism." 

43. Rosen, "Jay Rosen Interviews Demand Media." 

44. A. Gutmann and D. F. Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton: Princ- 
eton University Press, 2004), 7. 

45. J. Rosen, "The Action of the Idea," 143. 

46. Gutmann and Thompson, Why Deliberative Democracy?, 13-14. 

From Indymedia to Demand Media 95 

47 C. Mouffe, "For an Agonistic Model of Democracy," in The Democratic Paradox 
(London: Verso, 2000), 104. 

48. B. Honig, "The Politics of Agonism: A Critical Response to 'Beyond Good and Evil: 
Arendt, Nietzsche, and the Aestheticization of Political Action by Dana R. Villa," Political 
Theory 21, no. 3 (1993): 532. 

49. M. Wall, '"Blogs of War': Weblogs as News," Journalism 6, no. 2 (2005): 153. 

50. In this discussion I am indebted to R. Stuart Geiger, "Does Haber- 
mas Understand the Internet? The Algorithmic Construction of the Blogo/ 
Public Sphere," gnovis 10 (Fall 2009), 

51. Such a sociology might begin with science and technology studies generally 
and quickly expand; relevant starting citations might include Geiger, "Does Haber- 
mas Understand the Internet?"; G. Linch, "Why Computational Thinking Should 
Be the Core of the New Journalism Mindset," Publish! (blog), April 30, 2010, http://; F. 
Muniesa, Y. Millo, and M. Callon, "An Introduction to Market Devices," in "Mono- 
graph Series: Market Devices," supplement, Sociological Review 55, no. S2 (2007): 1-12; 
F. Pasquale, "Assessing Algorithmic Authority,", November 18, 2009,; M. Poon, "Score- 
cards as Devices for Consumer Credit: The Case of Fair, Isaac & Company Incorporated," 
Sociological Review 55, no. 2 (2007): 284-306; C. Shirky, "A Speculative Post on the Idea 
of Algorithmic Authority," Clay Shirky s blog, November 2009, 
weblog/2009/n/a-speculative-post-on-the-idea-of- algorithmic-authority/. 




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Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 

The Politics of Transgression 
and Spectacle 


Among academics, journalists, and hackers, it is common to define 
hackers not only by their inquisitive demeanor, the extreme joy they gar- 
ner from uninterrupted hacking sprints, and the technological artifacts they 
create but also by the "hacker ethic." Journalist Steven Levy first defined the 
hacker ethic in Hackers: Heroes of the Revolution, published in 1984. The 
hacker ethic is shorthand for a mix of aesthetic and pragmatic imperatives: 
a commitment to information freedom, a mistrust of authority, a heightened 
dedication to meritocracy, and the firm belief that computers can be the 
basis for beauty and a better world. 1 

In many respects, the fact that academics, journalists, and many hackers 
refer to the existence of this ethic is testament not only to the superb account 
that Levy offers — it is still one of the finest and most thoroughgoing accounts 
on hacking — but to the fact that the hacker ethic in the most general sense 
can be said to exist. For example, many of the principles motivating free and 
open-source software (F/OSS) philosophy reinstantiate, refine, extend, and 
clarify many of those original precepts. 2 

However, over the years, the concept has been overly used and has 
become reified. Indeed as I learned more about the contemporary face 
of hacking and its history during the course of my fieldwork on free and 
open-source software hacking, I started to see significant problems in 
positing any simple connection between all hackers and an unchanging 
ethic. Falling back on the story of the hacker ethic elides tensions and 
differences that exist among hackers. 3 Although hacker ethical principles 
may have a common core — one might even say a general ethos — further 
inquiry soon demonstrates that, similar to any cultural sphere, we can 
easily identify variance, ambiguity, and, at times, even serious points of 

Take for instance the outlandish and probably not entirely serious (but 
not entirely frivolous) accusation launched by a hacker bearing a spectacular 
and provocative name, the "UNIX Terrorist." He is featured in the hacker 
e-zine Phrack, which reached its popular zenith in the late 1980s and the 
early 1990s. 4 The UNIX Terrorist claims that a class of so-called hackers, 
those who write free and open- source software, such as the Linux operating 
system and the enormously popular Firefox browser, are not deserving of the 
moniker "hacker": 

Nowadays, it is claimed that the Chinese and even women are hack- 
ing things. Man, am I ever glad I got a chance to experience "the scene" 
before it degenerated completely. And remember, kids, knowing how to 
program or wanting really badly to figure out how things work inside 
doesn't make you a hacker! Hacking boxes makes you a "hacker"! That's 
right! Write your local representatives at Wikipedia/urbandictionary/OED 
and let them know that hackers are people that gain unauthorized access/ 
privileges to computerized systems! Linus Torvalds isn't a hacker! Richard 
Stallman isn't a hacker! Niels Provos isn't a hacker! Fat/ugly, maybe! Hack- 
ers, no! And what is up with the use of the term "cracker"? As far as I'm 
concerned, that term applies to people that bypass copyright protection 
mechanisms. Vladimir Levin? hacker, phiber optik? hacker. Kevin Mit- 
nick? OK maybe a gay/bad one, but still was a "hacker." Hope that's clear. 5 

Hackers do not universally invoke this type of policing between "good" 
and "bad" or "authentic" and "inauthentic." 6 Some hackers recognize the 
diversity of hacking and also acknowledge that, despite differences, hack- 
ing hangs together around a loose but interconnected set of issues, values, 
experiences, and artifacts. For instance, hackers tend to uphold a value for 
freedom, privacy, and access; they tend to adore computers — the cultural 
glue that binds them together; they are trained in highly specialized and 
technical esoteric arts, including programming, systems administration, and 
security research; some gain unauthorized access to technologies, though the 
degree of illegality greatly varies (and much of hacking is fully legal). Despite 
a parade of similarities, if we are to understand the political and cultural sig- 
nificance of hacking and its role in shaping and influencing segments of con- 
temporary Internet cultures — such as Internet trolling — every effort must be 
made to address its ethical and social variability. 

While Levy, and countless others, locate the birth of hacking at MIT and 
similar university institutions during the late 1950s, it may be more accu- 


rate to identify MIT as the place where one variant of hacking got its start. 
Another variant began in the 1950s with telephone phreakers, who were the 
direct ancestors to underground hackers like the UNIX Terrorist. Phreak- 
ers studied, explored, and entered the phone system by re-creating the audio 
frequencies that the system used to route calls. Quite distinct from univer- 
sity-bred hackers whose ethical commitments exhibit a hyperextension of 
academic norms such as their elevation of meritocracy, these phone explor- 
ers exhibited other ethical and aesthetic sensibilities rooted in transgression 
(often by breaking the law or duping humans for information) and spec- 
tacle (often by mocking those in power). The institutional independence of 
phreakers, in combination with some early political influences, such as the 
Yippies (Youth International Party), made for a class of technologists whose 
aesthetic sensibilities and linguistic practices proved to be more daring, viva- 
cious, audacious, and brash than what is commonly found in other genres of 
hacking, such as F/OSS. 

As phreaking morphed into computer hacking in the late 1970s and early 
1980s, this brash aesthetic tradition and the politics of transgression contin- 
ued to grow in visibility and importance, especially evident in the literary 
genres — textfiles and zines — produced by the hacker underground. In recent 
times, the aesthetics of audaciousness has veritably exploded with Internet 
trolls — a class of geek whose raison d'etre is to engage in acts of merciless 
mockery/flaming or morally dicey pranking. These acts are often deliv- 
ered in the most spectacular and often in the most ethically offensive terms 
possible. 7 

The behavior of trolls cannot, of course, be explained only by reference 
to the hacker underground or phreakers; nonetheless, as this essay will illus- 
trate, there is a rich aesthetic tradition of spectacle and transgression at play 
with trolls, which includes the irreverent legacy of phreakers and the hacker 
underground. This aesthetic tradition demonstrates an important political 
attribute of spectacle: the marked hyperbole and spectacle among phreakers, 
hackers, and trailers not only makes it difficult to parse out truth from lies; 
it has made it difficult to decipher and understand the cultural politics of 
their actions. This evasiveness sits in marked contrast to other genealogies of 
hacking that are far easier to culturally decipher. 

This drive toward cultural obfuscation is common to other edgy youth 
subcultures, according to cultural theorist Dick Hebdige. One of his most 
valuable insights, relevant to phreakers, hackers, and trailers, concerns 
the way that some subcultural groups have "translate [d] the fact of being 
under scrutiny into the pleasures of being watched, and the elaboration of 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 101 

surfaces which takes place within it reveals a darker will toward opacity, a 
drive against classification and control, a desire to exceed." 8 This description, 
which Hebdige used to describe the "costers," young and impoverished Brit- 
ish boys who sold street wares and who flourished a century ago, could have 
just as well been written about phreakers, hackers, and trailers nearly a cen- 
tury later. 

As the example of the UNIX Terrorist exemplifies, and as we will see 
below with other examples, these technologists "make a 'spectacle' of them- 
selves, respond to surveillance as if they were expecting it, as if it were per- 
fectly natural." 9 Even if they may vilify their trackers, they nonetheless take 
some degree of pleasure in performing the spectacle that is expected of them. 
Through forms of aesthetic audacity, a black hole is also created that helps 
shield these technologists from easy comprehension and provides some 
inoculation against forms of cultural co-optation and capitalist commodifi- 
cation that so commonly prey on subcultural forms. 10 

In the rest of the essay, I narrow my analysis to phreakers, underground 
hackers, and Internet trolls. The point here is not to fully isolate them from 
other types of hacking or tinkering, nor is it to provide, in any substantial 
manner, the historical connections between them. Rather it provides in 
broad strokes a basic historical sketch to illustrate the rich aesthetic tradition 
of spectacle that has existed for decades, all the while growing markedly in 
importance in recent years with Internet trolling. 

1950-1960S: The Birth of Phone Exploration, 
Freaking, and Phreaking 

Currently, the history of phone exploring, freaking, and phreaking exists 
only in fragments and scraps, although basic details have been covered in 
various books, public lectures, and Internet sites. 11 Most accounts claim Joe 
Engressia, also known as Joy Bubbles, as their spiritual father, although oth- 
ers were already experimenting with the phone network in this period. Blind 
since birth and with perfect pitch, Engressia spent countless hours playing 
at home with his phone. In 1957, at the age of eight, he discovered he could 
"stop" the phone by whistling at a certain pitch, later discovered to be a 2600 
hertz tone, into the receiver. Eventually, the media showcased this blind whiz 
kid, and local coverage most likely inspired others to follow in his footsteps. 
In the late 1950s, the first glimmerings of phone explorations thus flick- 
ered, although only sporadically. Largely due to a set of technological 
changes, phreaking glimmered more consistently in the 1960s, although it 


was still well below general public view. By 1961, phreakers — although still 
not named as such — no longer had to rely on perfect pitch to make their way 
into the phone system. They were building and using an assortment of small 
electrical boxes, the most famous of these being the Blue Box. This device 
was used to replicate the tones used by the telephone switching system to 
route calls, enabling Blue Box users to act as if they were a telephone opera- 
tor, facilitating their spelunking of the phone system and, for some, free 
phone calls. Phreakers drew up and released schematics, or detailed "Box 
plans," allowing others to construct them at home. Eventually, further tech- 
nical discoveries enabled phreakers to set up telephone conferences, also 
known as "party lines," where they congregated together to chat, gossip, and 
share technological information. 12 By the late 1960s, a "larger, nationwide 
phone phreak community began to form," notes historian of phreaking Phil 
Lapsely, and "the term 'phone freak condensed out of the ambient cultural 
humidity" 13 Its codes of conduct and technical aesthetics were slowly but 
surely boiling, thickening into a regularized set of practices, ethics, commit- 
ments, and especially jargon — a sometimes impenetrable alphabet soup of 
acronyms— that no author who has written on phreakers and subsequently 
hackers has ever left without remark. 14 

Hello World! The 1970s 

In was only in the 1970s when phone freaking made its way out of its crevasse 
and into the public limelight through a trickle of highly influential journalis- 
tic accounts that also worked to produce the very technologists represented 
in these pieces. Thanks in particular to "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," a 
provocative account published in 1971, mainstream Americans were given a 
window into the spelunkers of the phone system. The article, authored by 
Ron Rosenbaum, who coined the term "phreaker," 15 was an instant sensation, 
for it revealed, in astonishingly remarkable detail, the practices and sensual 
world of phreaking. It focused on a colorful cast of characters with "strange" 
practices, names, and obsessions, who, according to Rosenbaum, were barely 
able to control their technological urges: "A tone of tightly restrained excite- 
ment enters the Captains voice," wrote Rosenbaum, "when he starts talk- 
ing about Systems. He begins to pronounce each syllable with the hushed 
deliberation of an obscene caller." 16 Rosenbaum wrote such a compelling 
account of phreaking that it inspired a crop of young male teenagers and 
adults (including two Steves: Wozniak and Jobs) to follow in the footsteps of 
the phreakers he showcased. The most famous of the featured phreakers was 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 103 

Captain Crunch, whose name references a toy whistle packaged in the sug- 
ary Cap'n Crunch brand cereal. Captain Crunch discovered that this whistle 
emitted the very 2600 hertz tone that provided one entryway into the phone 

If journalists were spreading the word about these "renegade" technologi- 
cal enthusiasts throughout the 1970s, many phreakers and eventually hack- 
ers also took on literary pursuits of their own. In the 1980s they produced a 
flood of writing, often quite audacious in its form and content. In the early 
1970s, however, the volume was only a steady trickle. In 1971, phreakers pub- 
lished a newsletter as part of their brief affiliation with an existing and well- 
known countercultural political movement, the Yippies. Founded in 1967, 
the Yippies, who resided on the far left of the political spectrum, became 
famous for promoting sexual and political anarchy and for the memorable 
and outrageous pranks they staged. Originally bearing the title YIPL (Youth 
International Party Line), the newsletter was later renamed TAP (the Tech- 
nical Assistance Program). Over time, the editors of TAP dropped the overt 
politics, instead deriving "tremendous gut-level satisfaction from the sensa- 
tion of pure technical power." 17 

For a number of years, however, YIPL blended technological knowledge 
with a clear political call to arms. For instance, the first issue, published in 
1971, opens with a brief shout-out of thanks to the phreakers who contrib- 
uted the technical details that would fill the pages of this DIY/rough-and- 
tumble newsletter: "We at YIPL would like to offer thanks to all you phreaks 
out there." And it ends with a clear political statement: 

YIPL believes that education alone cannot affect the System, but education 
can be an invaluable tool for those willing to use it. Specifically, YIPL will 
show you why something must be done immediately in regard, of course, 
to the improper control of the communication in this country by none 
other than bell telephone company. 18 

Published out of a small storefront office on Bleecker Street in Manhattans 
then seedy East Village neighborhood, the YIPL newsletter offered technical 
advice for making free phone calls, with the aid of hand-drawn schematics 
on pages also peppered with political slogans and images. For instance, these 
included a raised fist, a call to "Strike the War Machine," and, important for 
our purposes here, the identification of AT&T as "Public Enemy Number 
1." 19 A group of phreakers, who by and large had pursued their exploitations 
and explorations in apolitical terms, got married, at least for a brief period of 


time, to an existing political movement. Although the marriage was brief, the 
Yippies nonetheless left their imprint on phreaking and eventually hacking. 

Although phreakers were already in the habit of scorning AT&T, they had 
done so with at least a measure of respect. 20 The zines YIPL, TAP, and even- 
tually 2600 signaled a new history of the phreakers' (and eventually hackers') 
scornful crusade against AT&T. For example, in 1984, when TAP ceased to 
be, the hacker magazine and organization 2600 got its start. Largely, although 
not exclusively, focusing on computers, 2600 paid homage to its phone- 
phreaking roots in choosing its name and spent over two decades lampoon- 
ing and critiquing AT&T (among other corporations and the government) 
with notable vigor. 

19805: "To Make a Thief, Make an Owner; 

to Create Crime, Create Laws" — Ursula Le Guin 

Arguably one of the most influential legacies of the Yippies was their role 
in amplifying the audacious politics of pranking, transgression, and mock- 
ery that already existed among phreaks. However, it took another set of legal 
changes in the 1980s for the politics of transgression and spectacle to reach 
new, towering heights. By the 1980s, phreaking was still alive and kicking but 
was increasingly joined by a growing number of computer enthusiasts, many 
of them preteens and teens, who extended the politics of transgression into 
new technological terrains. During this decade, the mainstream media also 
closely yoked the hacker to the figure of the criminal — often in spectacular 
terms as well — an image buttressed by legal changes that outlawed for the 
first time certain classes of computer intrusions. 21 

As in the past, other media representations also proved central in spark- 
ing the desire to hack, and few examples illustrate this better than the block- 
buster 1983 movie War Games. Many hackers I interviewed, for example, 
recounted how watching the movie led to a desire to follow in the footsteps 
of the happy-go-lucky hacker figure David, whose smarts lead him to unwit- 
tingly hack his way into a government computer called WOPR, located at the 
North American Aerospace Defense Command Center (NORAD). After ini- 
tiating a game of chess with the computer, David (unintentionally, of course) 
almost starts World War III. Most of the movie concentrates on his effort to 
stop the catastrophic end of the world by doing what hackers are famous for: 
subduing a recalcitrant and disobedient computer. 

Apparently the movie appealed to a slew of nerdy types across Europe, 
Latin America, and the United States, leading them to incessantly demand 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 105 

from their parents a PC and modem, which once they got, commanded their 
attention while they were logged on for hours on Bulletin Board Systems 
(BBSes). A BBS is a computerized meeting and announcement system where 
users could upload and download files, make announcements, play games, 
and have discussions. BBSes housed a wildly diverse mixture of information, 
from government UFO coverups to phreaking box schematics, as well as 
software to ingest. 22 They also functioned like virtual warehouses filled with 
vast amounts of stand-alone texts, including genres like textfiles and zines, 
both of which significantly expanded the reach of the hacker underground, 
often broadcasting their message in audacious tones. 

Textfiles, which were especially popular among underground hackers, 
spanned an enormously versatile subject range: anarchism, bomb building, 
schematics for electronics, manifestos, humorous tirades, UNIX guides, 
proper BBS etiquette, anti-Scientology rants, ASCII (text-based) porn, and 
even revenge tactics. A quite common type of textfile was box plans, sche- 
matics for electronics that showed how to use the phone system or other 
communication devices for unexpected (and sometimes illegal) purposes. 
Each textfile bears the same sparse aesthetic stamp: ASCII text, at times 
conjoined with some crude ASCII graphics. This visual simplicity sharply 
contrasts with the more audacious nature of the content. Take for example a 
textfile from 1984: "the code of the verbal warrior,or, [sic] barney's bitch war 
manual," which offered (quite practical) advice on the art of bitching. 

the glue ball bbs 312-465-hack 

barney badass's b-files 


the code of the verbal warrior,or, 

barney's bitch war manual 

so you log onto a board and make a bee-line for your favorite sub-board, 
some people love pirate boards,some people like phreak boards, my pas- 
sion is the trusty old standbythe bitch board. 

so you get in the 'argument den, or 'discussion board',or'nuclear bitch- 
fare'and start looking around for someone who you think you can out- 
rank, you know,insult,cut down,and generally verbally abuse, and so you 


post,and,next thing you know,somebody appears to hate your guts, you've 
got an enemy now what? 

the main problem with 85% of all bitching that goes on on boards today, 
is that people just don't know how to handle the answer to that question, 
now what? do i keep it up? do i give up? do i insult his mother? 

barney's bitch tip #1 make up yor mind, either take the bitch- 
ing completely seriouslyor do not take it seriously at all. if you find your- 
self grinning at insults thrown at you by your opponent,then either cut 
it out immediatelyor try grinning even wider when you're typing your 
reply, the benefit of this is that you can't be affected one way or the other 
by any thing that your opponent says. if you're taking it seriously, then you 
just keep glaring at your monitor, and remain determined to grind the 
little filth into submission, if you're using the lighthearted approach,then 
it's pretty dif- ficult to get annoyed by any kind of reference towards your 
mother/some chains/and the family dog,because,remember,you're not 
taking this seriously! 23 

During the 1980s and through the 1990s, hackers were churning out these 
literary and political texts at rates that made it impossible for any individ- 
ual to keep up with all of them. As cultural historian of hacking Douglas 
Thomas has persuasively argued, there was one publication, the electronic 
zine Phrack, that produced a shared footprint of attention among an oth- 
erwise sprawling crew of hackers and phreakers. 24 Phrack was particularly 
influential during its first decade of publication, and its style honored and 
amplified the brash aesthetics of hacking/phreaking as it spread news about 
the hacker underground. 

One of the most important sections of the zine was the hacker "Pro- 
Phile," an example of which is the UNIX Terrorist's Pro-Phile that appears at 
the beginning of this essay. Thomas explains its importance in the following 

The Pro-Phile feature was designed to enshrine hackers who had "retired" 
as the elder statesmen of the underground. The Pro-Philes became a kind 
of nostalgic romanticizing of hacker culture, akin to the write-up one 
expects in a high school yearbook, replete with "Favorite Things" and 
"Most Memorable Experiences." 25 

This material was not simply meant for the hacker public to ingest alone. 
In the case of Phrack, the audience included law enforcement, for this was 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 107 

the period when hackers were being watched closely and constantly. Like 
Hebdige's costers, hackers conveyed the message that they too were watch- 
ing back. The cat-and-mouse game of surveillance and countersurveillance 
among underground hackers and law enforcement amplified the existing 
propensity for hyperbole and trash talking that existed among phreakers and 
hackers. Their mockery of law enforcement, for example, not only abounded 
in the content featured in Phrack but was reflected in the very form of the 
zine. For instance, the structure of the Pro-Phile mirrors (and mocks) the 
FBI's "Most Wanted" poster, listing such attributes as date of birth, height, 
eye color, and so on. 26 

Hackers' expert command of technology, their ability to so easily dupe 
humans in their quest for information, and especially their ability to watch 
the watchers made them an especially subversive force to law enforcement. 
With society unable to pacify hackers through mere representation or tra- 
ditional capitalist co-optation, a string of hackers were not simply legally 
prosecuted but also persecuted, with their punishment often exceeding the 
nature of their crime. 27 

1990s: "In the United States Hackers 
Were Public Enemy No i."—Phiber Optik 

Throughout the 1990s, the hacker underground was thriving, but an 
increasing number of these types of hackers were being nabbed and crimi- 
nally prosecuted. 28 Although there are many examples to draw on, the most 
famous case and set of trials concerns hacker and phone phreaker Kevin 
Mitnick. 29 Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he was arrested and convicted 
multiple times for various crimes, including computer fraud and pos- 
sessing illegal long-distance access cods. Eventually the FBI placed him 
on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list before they were able to track him down 
and arrest him in 1995, after a three-year manhunt. He was in jail for five 
years, although he spent over four of those as a pretrial detainee, during 
which time he was placed in solitary confinement for a year. 30 Mitnick 
explained in an interview why this extreme measure was taken: "because 
a federal prosecutor told the judge that if I got to a phone I could connect 
to NORAD (North American Aerospace Command) and somehow launch 
an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)." 31 Mitnick was unquestion- 
ably guilty of a string of crimes, although he never gained anything finan- 
cially from his hacks. The extreme nature of his punishment was received 
as a warning message within the wider hacker community. "I was the guy 


pinned up on the cross," Kevin Mitnick told a packed room of hackers a 
couple of years after his release, "to deter you from hacking." 32 

At the time of Mitnicks arrest, hackers took action by launching a "Free 
Kevin" campaign. Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing until Mitnicks 
release in January 2002, the hacker underground engaged in both traditional 
and inventively new political activities during a vibrant, multiyear campaign: 
they marched in the streets, wrote editorials, made documentaries, and pub- 
licized his ordeal during the enormously popular hacker conference HOPE 
(Hackers on Planet Earth), held roughly every two years in New York City 
since 1994. 

2000-2010: Good Grief. The Masses Have Come to Our Internet 

Although the Internet was becoming more accessible throughout the 1990s, 
it was still largely off-limits, even to most North American and European 
citizens. By 2000, the floodgates started to open wide, especially with the 
spread of cheaper Internet connections. A host of new social media technol- 
ogies, including blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and video-sharing sites, 
were being built and used by geeks and nongeeks to post messages, to share 
pictures, to chatter aimlessly, to throw ephemeral thoughts into the virtual 
wind, and to post videos and other related Internet memes. Internet memes 
are viral images, videos, and catchphrases under constant modification by 
users, and with a propensity to travel as fast as the Internet can move them. 

During the period when large droves of people were joining the Internet, 
post-9/11 terrorism laws, which mandated stiff punishments for cybercrimes, 
and the string of hacker crackdowns of the 1980s and 1990s most likely made 
for a more reserved hacker underground. 33 Without a doubt, cultural signs 
and signals of the hacker underground were and are still visible and vibrant. 
Hacker underground groups, such as Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), contin- 
ued to release software. Conferences popular among the underground, such 
as DEFCON and HOPE, continue to be wildly popular even to this day. Free 
from jail after two years, Kevin Mitnick delivered his humorous keynote 
address to an overflowing crowd of hackers at the 2004 HOPE conference, 
who listened to the figure who had commanded their political attention for 
over ten years. 

Yet, with a few exceptions, the type of hacker Kevin Mitnick represents 
has become an endangered species in today's North American and European 
cultural landscape. Trolls, on the other hand, have proliferated beyond their 
more limited existence prior to this decade. Trolls have transformed what 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 109 

were more occasional and sporadic acts, often focused on virtual arguments 
called flaming or flame wars, into a full-blown set of cultural norms and set 
of linguistic practices. 34 These codes are now so well established and docu- 
mented that many others can, and have, followed in their footsteps. 

Trolls work to remind the "masses" that have lapped onto the shores of 
the Internet that there is still a class of geeks who, as their name suggests, 
will cause Internet grief, hell, and misery; examples of trolling are legion. 
Griefers, one particular subset of troll, who roam in virtual worlds and 
games seeking to jam the normal protocols of gaming, might enact a rela- 
tively harmless prank, such as programming flying phalluses to pay a public 
visit in the popular virtual world Second Life during a high-profile CNET 
interview 35 Other pranks are far more morally dicey. During a virtual funeral 
held in the enormously popular massively multiplayer online game World of 
Warcraft, for a young player who had passed away in real life, griefers orches- 
trated a raid and mercilessly killed the unarmed virtual funeral entourage. 36 

In the winter of 2007 and 2008, one group of trolls, bearing the name 
Anonymous, trolled the Church of Scientology after the church attempted to 
censor an internal video featuring Tom Cruise that had been leaked. (Even- 
tually what was simply done for the sake of trolling grew into a more tradi- 
tional protest movement.) 37 One participant in the raids describes the first 
wave of trolling as "ultra coordinated motherfuckary [sic]" a description fit- 
ting for many instances of trolling: 

The unified bulk of anonymous collaborated though [sic] massive chat 
rooms to engage in various forms of ultra coordinated motherfuckary 
[sic] . For very short periods of time between Jan 15th and 23rd Scientol- 
ogy websites were hacked, DDos'ed to remove them from the Internet, the 
Dianteics [sic] telephone hot line was completely bombarded with prank 
calls . . . and the "secrets" of their religion were blasted all over the internet, 
I also personally scanned my bare ass and faxed it to them. Because fuck 

If hackers in the 1980s and 1990 were "bred by boards," as Bruce Sterling 
has aptly remarked, trolls have been partly bred in one of the key descendants 
of boards: wildly popular image forums, like 4chan.0rg, which was founded in 
2003. 38 4chan houses a series of topic-based forums where participants— all of 
them anonymous — post and often comment on discussions or images, many 
of these being esoteric, audacious, creative, humorous, heavily Photoshopped, 
and often very grotesque or pornographic. In contrast to many websites, the 


posts on 4chan, along with their commentary, images, and video, are not 
archived. They are also posted at such an unbelievably fast pace and volume 
that much of what is produced effectively vanishes shortly after it is posted and 
viewed. These rapid-fire conditions magnify the need for audacious, unusual, 
gross, or funny content. This is especially true on the most popular and infa- 
mous of 4chan boards, /b/, the "random" board whose reigning logic combines 
topical randomness with aesthetic, linguistic, and visual extremity. "If you like 
the upbeat metaphor of the Internet as hive mind," explains Rob Walker, "then 
maybe lb I is one of the places where its unruly id lives." 39 This board is a haven 
for most anything and thus has birthed many acts of trolling. 

Like phreakers and hackers, some trolls act as historical archivists and 
informal ethnographers. They record and commemorate their pranks, trivia, 
language, and cultural mores in astonishing detail on a website called Ency- 
clopedia Dramatica (ED). ED is written in a style and genre that, like Phrack, 
pays aesthetic homage and tribute to the brashness that the trolls it chroni- 
cles constantly spew out. Take for example, the definition of "troll" and "lulz," 
a plural bastardization of laughing out loud ("loi"); lulz are often cited as the 
motivating emotional force and consequence of an act of trolling: 

A troll is more than the embodiment of the internet hate machine, trolls 
are the ultimate anti-hero, trolls fuck shit up. Trolls exist to fuck with peo- 
ple, they fuck with people on every level, from their deepest held beliefs, 
to the trivial. They do this for many reasons, from boredom, to making 
people think, but most do it for the lulz. 40 

Lulz is laughter at someone else's expense. . . . This makes it inherently 
superior to lesser forms of humor. . . . The term lulz was coined by Jameth, 
and is the only good reason to do anything, from trolling to consensual 
sex. After every action taken, you must make the epilogic dubious dis- 
claimer: "I did it for the lulz." Sometimes you may see the word spelled 
as luls but only if you are reading something written by a faggot. It's also 
Dutch for cock." 41 

As one will immediately notice, the very definition of "lulz" is a linguis- 
tic spectacle — one clearly meant to shock and offend through references to 
"cocks" and "faggots." Trolls have taken political correctness, which reached 
its zenith in the 1980s and the 1990s, by the horns and not only tossed it out 
the window but made a mockery of the idea that language, much like every- 
thing virtual, is anything that should be taken seriously. 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 111 

Clearly, trolls value pranking and offensiveness for the pleasure it affords. 
But pleasure is not always cut from the same cloth; it is a multivalent emo- 
tion with various incarnations and a rich, multifaceted history Common to 
F/OSS developers, hacker pleasure approximates the Aristotelian theory of 
eudaimonia described by philosopher Martha Nussbaum as "the unimpeded 
performance of the activities that constitute happiness." 42 Hackers, in push- 
ing their personal capacities and technologies to new horizons, experience 
the joy of what follows from the self-directed realization of skills, goals, and 
talents — more often than not achieved through computing technologies. 

The lulz, on the other hand, celebrates a form of bliss that revels and cel- 
ebrates in its own raw power and thus is a form of joy that, for the most part, 
is divorced from a moral hinge — such as the ethical love of technology. If 
underground hackers of the 1980s and 1990s acted out in brashness often 
for the pleasure of doing so, and as a way to perform to the watching eyes of 
the media and law enforcement, it was still largely hinged to the collective 
love of hacking/building and understanding technology. There was a balance 
between technological exploration and rude-boy behavior, even within the 
hacker underground that held an "elitist contempt" for anyone who simply 
used technological hacks for financial gain, as Bruce Sterling has put it. 43 

At first blush, it thus might seem like trolls and griefers live by no moral 
code whatsoever, but among trolls and griefers, there is a form of moral 
restraint at work. However naive and problematic it is, this morality lies in 
the "wisdom" that one should keep one's pranking ways on the Internet. 
Nothing represents this better than the definition for "Chronic Troll Syn- 
drome," also from Encyclopedia Dramatica. This entry uses the characteristi- 
cally offensive and brash style to highlight the existence of some boundaries, 
although in reality this advice is routinely ignored: 

Chronic Troll Syndrome (CTS) is an internet disease (not to be confused with 
Internet Disease) that is generally present in trolls. It causes the given troll to 
be unable to tell the difference between internet and IRL [in real life] limits. 

As a result, the troll is no longer able to comprehend what is appro- 
priate to say and do when dealing with IRL people in contrast with the 
Internets. Symptoms include being inconsiderate and generally asshatty to 
friends and family, the common offensive use of racial epithets, and a ten- 
dency to interfere in other people's business uninvited "for the laughs." 44 

As so many Internet scholars insist, one should question any such tidy divi- 
sion between the virtual world and meatspace; further trolling often exceeds 


the bounds of speech and the Internet when trolls "dox" (revealing social secu- 
rity numbers, home addresses, etc.) individuals and send unpaid pizzas to tar- 
get's home, for instance. 45 However problematic their division is, I would like 
to suggest that when trolls draw this cultural line in the sand, they are also 
commenting on the massification of the Internet — a position that is quite con- 
temptuous of newcomers. Although trolling has existed in some form since 
people congregated online, 46 trolling proliferated and exploded at the moment 
the Internet became populated with non-technologically-minded people. The 
brash behavior of trolls is especially offensive to people unfamiliar with this 
world, and even for those familiar with this world, it can still be quite offensive. 
Their spectacle works in part as a virtual fence adorned with a sign bearing the 
following message: "keep (the hell) out of here, this is our Homeland." 

This geeky commentary on the masses is not entirely new. Take, for 
instance, "September That Never Ended," an entry from an online glossary of 
hacker terms, the Jargon File: 

All time since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet 
used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any 
sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided 
with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plung- 
ing in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These relatively small 
drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few months. But in Septem- 
ber 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the 
old-timers' capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the 
period before, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of discus- 
sions on newsgroups. Syn. eternal September. See also AOL! 47 

Already by 1993 geeks and hackers who considered the Internet as their partic- 
ular romping grounds were remarking on the arrival of newcomers. This tradition 
of lamenting the "lame" behavior of "noobs" continues today; however, the tac- 
tics have changed among a class of technologists. Instead of reasoned debate, as is 
common with university and F/OSS hackers, among trolls, the preferred tactic of 
performing their "eliteness" is shocking spectacle and the creation of highly spe- 
cialized and esoteric jargon: argot. As noted folklorist David Maurer has argued, 
argot functions primarily in three capacities: to encode technical expertise, to cre- 
ate boundaries between insiders and outsiders, and to maintain secrecy 48 

The behavior of trolls, of course, cannot be explained only by their con- 
tempt of newcomers; as this essay has argued, there are multiple sources and 
a rich historical tradition at play, including the aesthetic legacy of phreakers 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 113 

and the underground, who provided a rich, albeit less shocking, tradition of 
spectacle and brashness from which to draw on, extend, and reformulate. We 
must also give due weight to the condition of collective anonymity, which, 
as the psychosocial literature has so long noted, fans the fire of flaming and 
rude behavior. 49 Finally, with a number of important exceptions, their antics, 
while perhaps morally deplorable, are not illegal. The hacker crackdown of 
the 1980 and 1990s may have subdued illegal hacks, but it certainly did not 
eliminate the rude-boy behavior that often went along with them; in fact, it 
might have created a space that allowed trolling to explode as it has in the 
past few years. 

How have underground hackers reacted to this class of technologists? 
Although there is no uniform assessment, the UNIX Terrorist, who opened 
this piece, ends his rant by analyzing "epic lulz." Engaging in the "lulz," he 
notes, provides "a viable alternative" both to the hacker underground and to 
open-source software development: 

Every day, more and more youngsters are born who are many times more 
likely to contribute articles to socially useful publications such as Encyclo- 
pedia Dramatica instead of 2600. Spreading terror and wreaking havoc for 
"epic lulz" have been established as viable alternatives to contributing to 
open source software projects. If you're a kid reading this zine for the first 
time because you're interested in becoming a hacker, fucking forget it. You're 
better off starting a collection of poached adult website passwords, or hang- 
ing out on 4chan. At least trash like this has some modicum of entertain- 
ment value, whereas the hacking/security scene had become some kind of 
fetid sinkhole for all the worst kinds of recycled academic masturbation 
imaginable. In summary, the end is fucking nigh, and don't tell me I didn't 
warn you . . . even though there's nothing you can do about it. 

Good night and good luck, 

the unix terrorist 50 

One obvious question remains: do trolls even deserve any place in the his- 
torical halls of hacking? I cannot answer this question here, for it is at once 
too early to make the judgment and not entirely my place to do the judging. 
One thing is clear: even if trolls are to be distinguished from underground 
hackers, they do not reside entirely in different social universes; trolling was 
common on BBSes, Usenet, and other Internet arenas where underground 
hacking thrived. There is a small class of the most elite griefers and trolls who 
use hacking as a weapon for their merciless mockery. Most telling may be the 


UNIX Terrorist himself, and especially his rant; as the UNIX Terrorist's final 
words so clearly broadcast: underground hacking is notoriously irreverent 
and brash and thus helped to light an aesthetic torch that trolls not only have 
carried to the present but have also doused with gasoline. 

Conclusion: Informational Tricksters or 
Just "Scum of the Earth Douchebags"? 

Even while some of the actions of phreakers, hackers, and trolls may be ethi- 
cally questionable and profoundly disquieting, there are important lessons 
to be drawn from their spectacular antics. 51 As political theorist and activist 
Stephen Duncombe has so insightfully argued, if carried out responsibly, a 
politics of spectacle can prove to be an invaluable and robust political tactic: 
"spectacle must be staged in order to dramatize the unseen and expose asso- 
ciations elusive to the eye." 52 The question that remains, of course, is whether 
there is any ethical substance to these spectacular antics, especially those 
of the troll, whose spectacle is often generated through merciless mocking, 
irreverent pranking, and at times, harassment. 

If we dare consider these informational prankers in light of the trickster, 
then perhaps there may be some ethical substance to some, although cer- 
tainly not all, of their actions. The trickster encompasses a wide range of 
wildly entertaining and really audacious mythical characters and legends 
from all over the world, from the Norse god Loki to the North American coy- 
ote. Not all tricksters are sanitized and safe, as Disney has led us to believe. 
Although clever, some are irreverent and grotesque. They engage in acts of 
cunning, deceitfulness, lying, cheating, killing and destruction, hell raising, 
and as their name suggests, trickery. Sometimes they do this to quell their 
insatiable appetite, to prove a point, at times just to cause hell, and in other 
instances to do good in the world. Tricksters are much like trolls: provoca- 
teurs and saboteurs. And according to Lewis Hyde, tricksters help to renew 
the world, in fact, to renew culture, insofar as their mythological force has 
worked to "disturb the established categories of truth and property and, by so 
doing, open the road to possible new worlds." 53 

The mythical notion of the trickster does seem to embody many of the 
attributes of the phreaker, hacker, and especially the contemporary Internet 
troll. But is it reasonable to equate the mythical trickster figure Loki and the 
tricksters in Shakespeare with figures that do not reside in myth (although 
Internet trolls certainly create myths), do not reside in fiction, but reside 
in the reality of the Internet? Given that trolls, in certain instances, have 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 115 

caused mayhem in peoples lives, does the moniker "trickster" act as an alibi, 
a defense, or an apology for juvenile, racist, or misogynist behavior? 54 Or is 
there a positive role for the troll to play on the Internet as site/place of con- 
stant play and performance? Is the troll playing the role of the trickster, or is 
the troll playing, you know, just for the lulz? 


I would like to thank Patrick Davison, Micah Anderson, Ashley Dawson, Finn Brun- 
ton, and especially Michael Mandiberg, who all provided such generous feedback and 
comments. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution -Share Alike 

1. Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Delta, 1984), 

2. Samir Chopra and Scott Dexter, Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open 
Source Software (New York: Routledge, 2009); E. Gabriella Coleman, "Code Is Speech: 
Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Devel- 
opers," Cultural Anthropology 24, no. 3 (2009): 420-454. Chris M. Kelty, Two Bits: The 
Cultural Significance of Free Software (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008). 

3. E. Gabriella Coleman and Golub Alex, "Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the 
Cultural Articulation of Liberalism," Anthropological Theory 8, no. 3 (2008): 255-277; Tim 
Jordan, Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism (London: Polity, 2008). 

4. Douglas Thomas, Hacker Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003). 

5. "Phrack Prophile on the UNIX Terrorist" Phrack, November 8, 2008, http://phrack. 
org/issues.html?issue=65&id=2#article (accessed June 27, 2010). 

6. It is far more common for hackers who do not engage in transgression to accuse 
transgressive hackers like the UNIX Terrorist of not being authentic hackers, instead 
being "crackers." See the entry for "cracker" in the tome of hacker lore, the Jargon File: 

7. Julian Dibbell, "Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses: Put the Blame on Griefers, the 
Sociopaths of the Virtual World," Wired, January 18, 2008, 
virtualworlds/magazine/i6-02/mf_goons (accessed July 10, 2009); Mattathias Schwartz, 
"Trolls among Us," New York Times Magazine, August 3, 2008, http://www.nytimes. 
com/20o8/o8/o3/magazine/o3trolls-t.html (accessed August 3, 2008). 

8. Dick Hebdige, "Posing . . . Threats, Striking . . . Poses" (1983), in The Subcultures 
Reader, ed. Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton (New York: Routledge, 1997), 403. 

9. Ibid., 398. 

10. Dick Hebdige, "Subculture: The Meaning of Style" (1979), in The Subcultures Reader, 
ed. Ken Gelder and Sarah Thornton, 393-405 (New York: Routledge, 1997). 

11. Phil Lapsely is currently writing a comprehensive history of phone phreaking and 
has given various lectures on the topic. See 

12. For a presentation about these early phone conferences held in the 1980s and 1990s, 
see TProphet & Barcode's talk, "Phreaks, Confs and Jail," given at The Last HOPE conference, 
July 2008,,-Confs-and-Jail-(The-Last-HOPE)-video.aspx. 


13- Phil Lapsely, "More on the Origin of 'Phreak,'" The History of Phone Phreaking Blog, 
April 4, 2010, 
phreak.html (accessed April 4, 2010). 

14. See Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (New York: Delta, 
1984), 39-46; Ron Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box," Esquire, October 1971, 
available online at (accessed April 16, 2011); 
Levy, Hackers; and Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Elec- 
tronic Frontier (New York: Bantam, 1992). 

15. Lapsely, "More on the Origin of 'Phreak'" 

16. Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." 

17. Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown, 62. 

18. "The Youth International Party Lines First Issue," YIPL, June 1971, 1 (on file with the 

19. Ibid. 

20. Rosenbaum, "Secrets of the Little Blue Box." 

21. Helen Nissenbaum, "Hackers and the Contested Ontology of Cyberspace," New 
Media and Society 6, no. 2 (2004): 195-217. 

22. Jason Scott has produced a seminal history of the BBS era in his documentary BBS: 
The Documentary. See 

23. barney badass, "the code of the verbal warrior," 
bitch.txt (accessed July 10, 2010). 

24. Thomas, Hacker Culture. 

25. Ibid., 92. 

26. Ibid., 132. 

27. Thomas, Hacker Culture; Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown. Among underground 
hackers, media representation and commodification were and still are largely ineffec- 
tive tools to placate them. However, lucrative information-technology jobs, especially 
within the security industry, as Andrew Ross has noted, has led "two generations of 
hackers" to agonize "over accepting lucrative offers of employment within corporate or 
government IP security." Andrew Ross, Nice Work If You Can Get It (New York: NYU 
Press, 2009), 124. 

28. Quotation in section title from Elinor Mills, "Q&A: Mark Abene, from 'Phiber 
Optik to Security Guru," CNET News, June 23, 2009, 
10270582-83.html (accessed July 10, 2010). 

29. Kevin Mitnick's case and others are covered in Thomas, Hacker Culture. 

30. E. Gabriella Coleman and Golub Alex, "Hacker Practice: Moral Genres and the Cul- 
tural Articulation of Liberalism," Anthropological Theory 8, no. 3 (2008): 255-277; Thomas, 
Hacker Culture. 

31. Elinor Mills, "Q&A: Kevin Mitnick, from Ham Operator to Fugitive to Consul- 
tant," CNET News, June 22, 2009, 
(accessed July 10, 2010). 

32. Quotation from Kevin Mitnick's keynote address delivered at the fifth HOPE 
conference, held in New York City, July 9-11, 2004, available online at http://www.the- and 
(accessed July 10, 2010). 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 117 

33- This is difficult to empirically verify, yet it is not unreasonable to surmise that 
the well-publicized hacker arrests of the 1990s, combined with even stiffer penalties for 
computer intrusion mandated in the Patriot Act, would work to curb the most flagrant or 
potentially illegal behaviors or, alternatively, possibly make the underground burrow back 
into the recesses of its crevasses, away from the watchful eye of law enforcement. 

34. Contemporary trolls encompass a wide range of subgroups, each with particular 
histories and techniques and some also harboring great distaste for other trolling groups. 

35. Burci Bakioglu, "Spectacular Interventions of Second Life: Goon Culture, Griefing, 
and Disruption in Virtual Spaces," in special edition: "Cultures of Virtual Worlds," Journal 
of Virtual Worlds Research 3, no. 1 (2009),; 
Dibbell, "Mutilated Furries, Flying Phalluses." 

36. "WoW Funeral Raid,", June 13, 2009, 
famous/wow-funeral-raid/ (accessed June 10, 2009). 

37. See 

38. Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown. 

39. Rob Walker, "When Funny Goes Viral," New York Times Magazine, July 12, 2010, (accessed July 12, 2010). 

40. Encyclopedia Dramatica, s.v. "Troll," 
(accessed October 12, 2009). 

41. Encyclopedia Dramatica, s.v. "Lulz," 
(accessed October 12, 2009). 

42. Martha C. Nussbaum, "Mill between Aristotle and Bentham," Daedalus 133, no. 2 
(2004): 64. 

43. Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown. 

44. Encyclopedia Dramatica, s.v. "Chronic Troll Syndrome," http://encyclopediadra- (accessed October 12, 2009). 

45. E. Gabriella Coleman, "Ethnographic Approaches to Digital Media," Annual Review 
of Anthropology 39 (2010): 1-19; David Hakken, Cyborgs@Cyberspace? An Ethnographer 
Looks to the Future (New York: Routledge, 1999); T. L. Taylor, Play between Worlds: Explor- 
ing Online Game Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006). 

46. Judith S. Donath, "Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community," in Communi- 
ties in Cyberspace, ed. Mark A. Smith and Peter Kollock, 29-59 (London: Routledge, 1999). 

47. Jargon File, s.v. "September That Never Ended," 

48. David Maurer, Whiz Mob: A Correlation of the Technical Argot of Pickpockets with 
Their Behavior (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littleneld, 1964). 

49. Patricia Wallace, The Psychology of the Internet (New York: Cambridge University 
Press, 1999). 

50. "Phrack Prophile on the UNIX Terrorist." 

51. Quotation in section title from Encyclopedia Dramatica, s.v. "Troll," March 27, 
2010, revision, http://web.archive.0rg/web/20100327134636/http://encyclopediadramatica. 
com/Troll (accessed July 5, 2011). 

52. Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy 
(New York: New Press, 2007), 156-157. 

53. Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief Myth, and Art (New York: North 
Point, 1999), 13. 


54- Although I am not answering this question here, I am certainly not posing it rhe- 
torically. It is crucial to interrogate trolling in all its dimensions, roots, and consequences, 
which I am unable to do here, as the main purpose of this essay is to establish aesthetic 
linkages between phreakers, hackers, and trolls. Lisa Nakamura has written about online 
racism extensively. See Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet 
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and 
Identity on the Internet (New York: Routledge, 2002). Recently, she has explored the inter- 
section between racism and griefing in a talk: "Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game," 
June 16, 2010, available online at 
lisa-nakamura-dont-hate-the-player-hate-the-game. Legal scholar Danielle Citron has 
examined cyberharassment of women in terms of discrimination, building on her previ- 
ous work on legal barriers and opportunities for addressing online abuse. See Danielle 
Citron, "Law's Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment," Michigan Law 
Review 108 (2009): 373-416; and Danielle Citron, "Cyber Civil Rights," Boston University 
Law Review 89 (2009): 61-125. Not all cases of trolling are relevant to the issues raised by 
these scholars, but some of them certainly are pertinent. 

Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls 119 

The Language of Internet Memes 


In The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It, Jonathan Zittrain 
describes the features of a generative network. A generative network encour- 
ages and enables creative production and, as a system, possesses leverage, 
adaptability, ease of mastery, accessibility, and transferability 1 Notably absent 
from this list of characteristics, however, is security. Many of the character- 
istics that make a system generative are precisely the same ones that leave it 
vulnerable to exploitation. This zero-sum game between creativity and secu- 
rity implies a divided Internet. Those platforms and communities which value 
security over creativity can be thought of as the "restricted web," while those 
that remain generative in the face of other concerns are the "unrestricted web." 

The restricted web has its poster children. Facebook and other social net- 
working sites are growing at incredible speeds. Google and its ever-expand- 
ing corral of applications are slowly assimilating solutions to all our com- 
puting needs. Amazon and similar search-based commerce sites are creating 
previously unimagined economies. 2 Metaphorically, these sites, and count- 
less others, make up the cities and public works of the restricted web. How- 
ever, the unrestricted web remains the wilderness all around them, and it is 
this wilderness that is the native habitat of Internet memes. 

The purpose of this essay is twofold. The first is to contribute to a frame- 
work for discussing so-called Internet memes. Internet memes are popular 
and recognizable but lack a rigorous descriptive vocabulary. I provide a few 
terms to aid in their discussion. The second purpose is to consider Foucault's 
"author function" relative to Internet memes, many of which are created and 
spread anonymously. 

What Is an Internet Meme? 

In 1979 Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, in which he discredits 
the idea that living beings are genetically compelled to behave in ways that 
are "good for the species." Dawkins accomplishes this by making one point 


clear: the basic units of genetics are not species, families, or even individuals 
but rather single genes — unique strands of DNA. 3 

At the end of the book, Dawkins discusses two areas where evolutionary 
theory might be heading next. It is here that he coins the term "meme." He 
acknowledges that much of human behavior comes not from genes but from 
culture. He proposes that any nongenetic behavior be labeled as a meme and 
then poses a question: can the application of genetic logic to memes be pro- 
ductive? To make the differences between genes and memes clear, I offer a 
short example of each. 

Genes determine an organisms physical characteristics. A certain gene 
causes an organism to have short legs, or long, for instance. Imagine two 
zebra. The first has the short-leg gene, and the second the long. A lion attacks 
them. The short-legged zebra runs more slowly and is eaten. The long-legged 
zebra runs more quickly (because of its legs) and lives. At this point, there 
are more long-leg genes in the imaginary ecosystem than short-leg genes. 
If the long-legged zebra breeds and has offspring, those offspring with long 
legs will continue to survive at a higher rate, and more offspring of those off- 
spring will contain the long-leg gene. The genes themselves are not thinking 
beings — the long-leg gene does not know it causes long-leggedness, nor does 
it care, but given that it bestows a property that interacts with the environ- 
ment to allow more of itself to be produced, it is successful. 4 

Memes determine the behavior of an organism. They are either taught to 
an organism (you go to school and learn math) or learned through experi- 
ence (you stick a finger in an outlet, get shocked, understand that outlets 
should be avoided). Imagine two soccer players. There are genetic factors 
which might make them better or worse at playing (long or short legs, for 
instance); however, their ability is also dependent on their understanding of 
the game. For this example, let us imagine that the two players are physically 
identical. However, one of them goes to practice, and the other does not. At 
practice, the coach teaches the attendant player about passing: you pass the 
ball to other players and increase the chance that your team will score. Dur- 
ing a game, the attendant player is likely to pass and to experience success 
because of it. The truant player, having not learned the passing meme, will 
not pass, and that player's team will suffer because of it. 

While genes rely on the physical process of reproduction to replicate, 
memes rely on the mental processes of observation and learning. In our 
example, the truant player comes to the game without the passing meme and 
suffers. That player is, however, able to observe the attendant player passing, 
and succeeding, and can decide to imitate the attendant player by passing as 

The Language of Internet Memes 121 

well. The passing meme successfully replicates itself in a new organism with- 
out the all-or-nothing cycle of life and death. This highlights one of the criti- 
cal differences between genes and memes: speed of transmission. Compared 
to genetic changes (which span generations upon generations), memetic 
changes happen in the blink of an eye. Offline memes, cultural cornerstones 
like language or religion, are hyperfast when compared to their genetic coun- 
terparts. Internet memes are even faster. 

The other notable difference between genes and memes is their relative 
fidelity of form. In our zebra example, a zebra is granted physical characteris- 
tics based on a discrete combination of DNA. All the genes that Dawkins dis- 
cusses are at their most basic made up of sequences of only four chemicals. 
The memes that I examine in this essay, however, are not made up of chemi- 
cals but of ideas and concepts. Our truant player may observe and learn 
the passing meme, but that process does not transfer an identical chemical 
"code" for passing. The meme is subject to interpretation and therefore to 

In Dawkins's original framing, memes described any cultural idea or 
behavior. Fashion, language, religion, sports— all of these are memes. Today, 
though, the term "meme" — or specifically "Internet meme" — has a new, col- 
loquial meaning. While memes themselves have been the subject of entire 
books, modern Internet memes lack even an accurate definition. There are 
numerous online sources (Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, Know Your Meme, 
Encyclopedia Dramatica) that describe Internet memes as the public per- 
ceives them, but none does so in an academically rigorous way. Given this, I 
have found the following new definition to be useful in the consideration of 
Internet memes specifically: 

An Internet meme is apiece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence 
through online transmission. 

While not all Internet memes are jokes, comparing them to offline jokes 
makes it clear what makes Internet memes unique: the speed of their trans- 
mission and the fidelity of their form. 5 A spoken joke, for instance, can only 
be transmitted as quickly as those individuals who know it can move from 
place to place, and its form must be preserved by memory. A printed joke, 
in contrast, can be transmitted by moving paper and can be preserved by a 
physical arrangement of ink. The speed of transmission is no longer limited 
by the movement of individuals, and the form of the joke is preserved by a 
medium, not memory. 


Now, consider a joke that exists on the Internet. The speed of transmis- 
sion is increased yet again, in an incredible way. Space is overcome: com- 
puters connect to one another through far-reaching networks. Time is over- 
come: the digitally represented information is available as long as the server 
hosting it remains online. A joke stored on a website can be viewed by as 
many people as want to view it, as many times as they want to, as quickly as 
they can request it. 

An online joke's fidelity of form, however, is subject to a unique contradiction. 
Being digital, the joke is perfectly replicable. Copy and paste functions (or their 
equivalents) are ubiquitous, expected parts of software platforms. 6 However, a 
piece of digital media in the modern landscape of robust and varied manipula- 
tion software renders it also perfectly malleable. Individual sections of a piece of 
digital media can be lifted, manipulated, and reapplied with little effort. 

Once I say that a piece of media, or a meme, is replicable and malleable, I 
must specify what exactly is being copied or changed. A meme can be sepa- 
rated into components. I propose three: the manifestation, the behavior, and 
the ideal. 

The manifestation of a meme is its observable, external phenomena. It is 
the set of objects created by the meme, the records of its existence. It indi- 
cates any arrangement of physical particles in time and space that are the 
direct result of the reality of the meme. 

The behavior of a meme is the action taken by an individual in service of 
the meme. The behavior of the meme creates the manifestation. For instance, 
if the behavior is photographing a cat and manipulating that photograph 
with software, the manifestation this creates is the ordered progression of 
pixels subsequently uploaded to the Internet. 

The ideal of a meme is the concept or idea conveyed. 7 The ideal dictates 
the behavior, which in turn creates the manifestation. If the manifestation is 
a funny image of a cat and the behavior is using software to make it, then the 
ideal is something like "cats are funny." 

When tracking the spread of a particular meme, it is useful to identify which 
of these three aspects is being replicated and which adapted. Dawkins prefig- 
ures this in his original chapter by theorizing that the principal tool for meme 
identification would be the perception of replication. This is important, because 
identifying the replication of memes is subjective. Sometimes this identifica- 
tion is easy: one person acts, and another person copies that person exactly. 
Other times the process of replication is less exact. This is why separating the 
manifestation, behavior, and ideal is useful. As long as one of the three compo- 
nents is passed on, the meme is replicating, even if mutating and adapting. 

The Language of Internet Memes 123 

Early Internet Memes 

In 1982 Scott E. Fahlman proposed a solution to a problem he and other users 
were experiencing when communicating via the Internet. Members who par- 
ticipated on the bulletin-board system at Carnegie Mellon would on occasion 
descend into "flame wars" — long threads of communication that are hos- 
tile or openly aggressive to other users. Fahlman believed that many of these 
disagreements arose out of misinterpreted humor. His solution to this prob- 
lem was to add a specific marker to the end of any message that was a joke. 8 
That marker was :-). I am going to assume that anyone reading this has seen 
this "emoticon" and understands that if rotated ninety degrees clockwise, the 
colon, hyphen, and close-parenthesis resemble a smiling face, a symbol lifted 
from pre-Internet time. This practice of contextualizing one's written messages 
with an emoticon to indicate emotional intent has become widespread. Today 
there are countless other pseudopictograms of expressions and objects which 
are regularly added to typed communication. Emoticons are a meme. 

To leverage my framework, the manifestation of an emoticon is whatever 
combination of typed characters is employed as pseudopictogram. These can 
be in any medium — handwritten or printed on paper, displayed on a screen, 
any form capable of representing glyphs. The behavior is the act of construct- 
ing such an emoticon to contribute emotional meaning to a text. The ideal is 
that small combinations of recognizable glyphs represent the intent or emo- 
tional state of the person transmitting them. 

If we analyze the emoticon meme from a genetic point of view which 
values survival and defines success through continued replication, it proves 
itself remarkably well situated. Emoticons can be very quickly used. Emoti- 
cons are easy to experiment with. The tools for making emoticons are 
included on every device we use to type. The primary glyphs used for many 
of the emoticons are glyphs used less often than the upper- and lower-case 
alphabets. Emoticons reference a previously existing source of meaning 
(human facial expressions) and therefore can be easily interpreted upon first 
encounter. More than just re-creating face-to-face meaning in textual com- 
munication, emoticons also add the possibility of a new level of meaning — a 
level impossible without them. 

If all these factors were not true, perhaps emoticons would see less use. If 
keyboards full of punctuation were not already spread across the landscape, 
or if human facial expressions were not a cultural constant, maybe emoticons 
would disappear or be relegated to obscurity. As it stands, though, emoti- 


cons not only pervade both online and offline communication but have also 
received significant formal support on many platforms. 9 

Emoticons come from the Internet's childhood, when bulletin boards 
and e-mails accounted for a bulk of the activity online. Another early meme 
came from its adolescence — 1998, after the widespread adoption of the World 
Wide Web and during the heyday of GeoCities. 10 Deidre LaCarte, who was a 
Canadian art student at the time, made a GeoCities-hosted website as part of 
a contest with a friend to see who could generate the most online traffic. The 
website she created, popularly known as "Hamster Dance," consisted of row 
upon row of animated gifs, each one depicting a hamster dancing, all set to 
a distorted nine-second audio loop. As of January 1999 the site had amassed 
eight hundred views, total. Once 1999 began, however, without warning or 
clear cause, the site began to log as many as fifteen thousand views a day 11 
The comparison of these two early memes, Hamster Dance and emoticons, 
provides an opportunity to expand and clarify some of the vocabulary I use 
to discuss memes and to make two important distinctions. 

Emoticons are a meme that serve a number of functions in the transmis- 
sion of information. They can be used to frame content as positive or negative, 
serious or joking, or any number of other things. Hamster Dance essentially 
serves a single function: to entertain. This difference in function influences the 
primary modes of access for each of these memes. For the emoticon meme the 
behavior is to construct any number of emotional glyphs in any number of set- 
tings, while for the Hamster Dance meme the behavior is only a single thing: 
have people (themselves or others) view the Hamster Dance web page. The 
Hamster Dance page is a singular thing, a spectacle. It gains influence through 
its surprising centralization. It is a piece of content that seems unsuited given 
more traditional models of assessment of organizing people around a central 
location, but yet, that is precisely the function it serves. 

Emoticons gain influence in exactly the opposite way. There was an origi- 
nal, single emoticon typed in 1982, but other emoticons do not drive peo- 
ple toward that single iteration. The emoticon has gained influence not by 
being surprisingly centralized but by being surprisingly distributed. Hamster 
Dance is big like Mt. Rushmore. Emoticons are big like McDonald's. This 
first distinction, then, is that the influence gained by memes can be both cen- 
tralized and distributed. 

The second distinction is closely related to the first. Just as Hamster Dance 
is characterized by many-in-one-location, and emoticons are character- 
ized by individuals-in-many-locations, the two also differ in the nature of 

The Language of Internet Memes 125 


r*. — f\ 

t * 5 

C * 1 

LrJ L:j l:j bJ l:j l:j tJ l:j l:j 

Fig. 9.1. Hamster Dance ( 

the behavior they replicate. Many more people have used an emoticon, or 
concocted their own, than have seen the very first emoticon from 1982. In 
contrast, many more people have seen the original Hamster Dance site than 
have created their own Hamster Dance site. It is tempting, then, to say that 
this difference implies two categories of memetic behavior: use and view. 
It is more useful, though, to treat both of these behaviors as characteristics 
present in varying degrees for any given meme. These two behaviors connect 
directly to the previously mentioned states of replicable and malleable. 12 A 
piece of media's being replicable makes it easier for that media to gain influ- 
ence through views. A piece of media's being malleable makes it easier for 
that media to gain influence through use. Engagement with a meme, then, 
takes the form of either use or viewing or, more in keeping with the terms of 
malleable and replicable, of transformation or transmission. 

These distinctions help to account for the variety of phenomena popularly 
identified as Internet memes. Working from Dawkins's initial conception, 
the term "meme" can mean almost anything. By limiting the scope of what 
is meant by "Internet meme," the goal is not to create a basis for invalidating 



the widespread use of the term but, rather, to provide an inclusive method 
for accounting for and relating the various phenomena labeled as such. 

Current Internet Memes 

All memes (offline and on) are capable of existing in layers. For instance, 
consider language. The meme of language is communication through 
speech. There are, however, multiple languages. Each individual language is 
a meme nested within the larger language meme. Additionally, within each 
individual language there are even more submemes: dialects, slang, jargon. 

Internet memes follow the same structure. One very common, rather 
large meme is the image macro. An image macro is a set of stylistic rules for 
adding text to images. Some image macros involve adding the same text to 
various images, and others involve adding different text to a common image. 
Just like emoticons, which exist in an environment well suited to supporting 
their survival, image macros are able to thrive online because the software 
necessary for their creation and distribution is readily available. 

There are countless submemes within the image macro meme, such as 
LOLcats, FAIL, demotivators. I am going to focus on just one: Advice Dog. 
The trope of this meme is that Advice Dog, a friendly looking dog at the cen- 
ter of a rainbow-colored background, is offering the viewer whatever advice 
is contained in the text above and below his head. The formula is simple: 

1 . Image of dog in center of rainbow 

2. First line of advice 

3. Second line of advice (usually a punch line) 

Iterations of the Advice Dog meme vary not only in the specific text they 
use to communicate humor but also in the type of humor communicated. 
When Advice Dog gives someone advice, genuine good advice, it can be 
humorous simply by virtue of being attached to a bright background and 
smiling dog. Once it is established that the explicit function of Advice Dog is 
to give advice, though, having him give bad or unexpected advice is ironic. 
The text can also be transgressive, giving advice that is intentionally offensive 
or absurd, accompanied by text that is not advice at all. 

In addition to having Advice Dog offer various kinds of advice, one can 
also have other figures deliver other kinds of messages. These are Advice 
Dog-like variants. Whether a "genuine" Advice Dog iteration or a simply an 
Advice Dog-like variant, all of these are contained within the larger Advice 

The Language of Internet Memes 127 

Fig. 9.2. Advice Dog meme 


Figs. 9.3-9.5. More Advice Dog memes 


Dog meme. The manifestations are the individual images, among which 
numerous replicated elements are obvious. The style of the background, the 
square format of the image, the central placement of a cropped figure — all 
of these remain constant (with consistent variation) from image to image. 
The behavior of the meme is a varied set of practices. Viewing and linking 
to various Advice Dog manifestations is part of the meme, as is saving and 
reposting the same. Creating original iterations with new text is part of the 
meme, as is creating or contributing to any of the Advice Dog-like variants 
in the same manner. 

The ideal of the Advice Dog meme is harder to describe. The meaning 
conveyed by any single Advice Dog macro can vary wildly. Some have ironic 
meanings, while others have aggressive or offensive meanings. The subject 
can be a dog that gives advice or a child that celebrates success. So we can 
say that for Advice Dog, the ideal of the meme is not always replicated from 
instance to instance. With no qualities recognizable from iteration to itera- 
tion, it would seem there is no justification for linking them together as part 
of the same meme. However, what is replicated from instance to instance 
is the set of formal characteristics. We are able to identify each instance as 
part of the larger Advice Dog meme because of the similarities in form and 
regardless of the differences in meaning. 


The identification of memes relies on the identification of replications. One 
of the most common replicated elements that sets memes of the unrestricted 
web apart from memes of the restricted web is attribution. Attribution is 
the identification of an author for a piece of media. Attribution is central 
to much of the restricted web: YouTube is host to numerous copyright bat- 
tles, fueled by rights holders' desire to derive worth from media attributed 
to them. Wikipedia encourages submissions from anyone but meticulously 
tracks participation and only allows images to be uploaded by their license 
holder. Creative Commons offers numerous alternative licenses for content 
creators, but attribution is common to every one. 13 

It is clear that many of the popular platforms of the Internet preserve and 
extend a historical prioritizing of attribution and authorship. Foucault, in his 
essay "What Is an Author?" writes that the author's name "performs a cer- 
tain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory func- 
tion. Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, 
define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others. In addi- 


Climb the Highest Mountain 



Punch the Face of God 


1 * 






Figs. 9.6-9.11. Advice Dog variants: Courage Wolf, Politically-Neutral Dog, Depression 
Dog, Bachelor Frog, Rich Raven, Success Kid 

The Language of Internet Memes 131 

tion, it establishes a relationship between the texts." 14 Foucault's concept of 
the "author function" is therefore similar in function to modern metadata. 
The authors name serves to classify and group together separate works, 
much in the same way tags and keywords allow distributed digital media to 
be searched and sorted. The Internet is a system filled with an incalculable 
amount of data. The question of where to find a piece of media has become 
just as relevant as the question of how to produce a piece of media. Attribu- 
tion supports this model and fits within the modern practice of prioritiz- 
ing metadata. Metadata is a meme. It is a meme that existed well before the 
Internet but that has, like other memes introduced to the Internet, achieved 
an accelerated rate of growth and change. 

Then why do certain memes eschew attribution? The memes of the unre- 
stricted web (Advice Dog is only one example) not only often disregard 
attribution and metadata; they are also frequently incorporated into systems 
and among practices that actively prevent and dismantle attribution. 15 Some 
people might argue that many Internet memes lack attribution because their 
creators have no stake in claiming ownership over worthless material. How- 
ever, if the practice of attribution is a meme, then the practice of omitting 
attribution is also a meme, and insofar as it exists and replicates within cer- 
tain populations, we must say that it is successful. The nonattribution meme 
possesses characteristics that make it likely to be replicated in others. 

What, then, does the practice of anonymity offer to the individuals who 
enact it? In many ways, anonymity enables a type of freedom. This freedom 
can have obvious personal benefits if the material one is generating, sharing, 
or collecting is transgressive. For those Internet users who revel in the exis- 
tence of racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive memes, a practice and system 
of anonymity protects them from the regulation or punishment that peers 
or authorities might attempt to enact in response to such material. However, 
there is an additional layer of freedom afforded by a lack of attribution. With 
no documented authors, there exists no intellectual property. Memes can be 
born, replicated, transmitted, transformed, and forwarded with no concern 
for rights management, monetization, citation, or licensing. This takes us 
full circle back to Zittrain's generative network and to the unrestricted web it 
implies. The prioritization of creative freedom over security is epitomized by 
the nonattribution meme. 

The question I am left with, that I am as of yet unequipped to answer, is 
whether this thought process casts the nonattribution meme in the role of a 
metameme. If the presence of the nonattribution meme in a network makes 
that network more likely to be generative, and if being generative makes a 


network a more fertile environment for the production and evolution of 
memes, then is nonattribution a meme that makes the creation of other 
memes more likely? Lastly, how important is the effect of this metameme 
when we consider a network (the Internet) whose platforms can require 
either attribution or anonymity? 


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. Jonathan Zittrain, The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 2008). 

2. Chris Anderson, The Long Tail (New York: Hyperion, 2006). 

3. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). 

4. The use of the word "successful" here is nontrivial. Dawkins explains that replica- 
tion is a fundamental process for genetics. The earliest forms of life achieve their status 
as such by virtue of their ability to create copies of themselves. The process of evolution 
relies entirely on the particulars of the process of reproduction. The theoretical method of 
meme identification that Dawkins proposes is one that relies on identifying replications. 
Given all of this, success is always measured by volume of replication. Insofar as an entity 
(gene, meme, or otherwise) makes more of itself, it is successful. 

5. These are the same two characteristics that differ so greatly between genes and 
memes. If memes transmit faster and are more adaptable than genes, then Internet 
memes are the most extreme example of that tendency: they are transmitted the fastest 
and are the most adaptable. 

6. Nilay Patel, "iPhone Finally Gets Copy and Paste!" engadget, March 17, 2009, http:// (accessed June 25, 

7. I use "ideal" here specifically to reference a platonic ideal. The historical under- 
standing of a platonic ideal is ultimately centralized. A single, theoretical ideal dictates 
characteristics down to individual manifestations. The ideals of memes operate in reverse. 
The ideal of a meme is the aggregate of all manifestations of that meme. This is a bottom- 
up rather than top-down organization. 

8. Scott E. Fahlman, "Smiley Lore :-)," Scott E. Fahlman's Carnegie Mellon University 
web page, (accessed June 25, 2010). 

9. The "Gchat" functionality inside of Google's Gmail, for instance, not only automati- 
cally animates any of a number of popular emoticons; it also allows users to select from 
various styles of animation and provides buttons for inserting emoticons without typing. 

10. GeoCities was an early website-hosting service from 1994 which allowed people 
with no programming knowledge to create their own websites for free. It was later 
acquired by Yahoo! in 1999 and then closed in 2009 ( 

11. "Hamster Dance," Wikipedia, 
(accessed June 25, 2010). 

12. When considering the form of any given meme, one must consider how easily the 
form is copied and how easily the form is changed. As I have said, Internet memes are 
cultural units that are the most replicable and malleable. 

The Language of Internet Memes 133 

13- Since the initial writing of this essay, Creative Commons has introduced a CCo 
license, which does not require attribution. 

14. Michel Foucault, "What Is an Author?" in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, 
101-120 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), 107. 

15. 4chan.0rg is a website which has become the most popular example of a site that 
eschews attribution. It allows contributions from users with no registration process, 
which has led to a user base operating largely in anonymity. 




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The Long Tail 


In 1988, a British mountain climber named Jo Simpson wrote a book 
called Touching the Void, a harrowing account of near death in the Peruvian 
Andes. It got good reviews, but, only a modest success, it was soon forgotten. 
Then, a decade later, a strange thing happened. Jon Krakauer wrote Into Thin 
Air, another book about a mountain-climbing tragedy, which became a pub- 
lishing sensation. Suddenly Touching the Void started to sell again. 

Random House rushed out a new edition to keep up with demand. Book- 
sellers began to promote it next to their Into Thin Air displays, and sales rose 
further. A revised paperback edition, which came out in January, spent four- 
teen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. That same month, IFC Films 
released a docudrama of the story to critical acclaim. Now, Touching the Void 
outsells Into Thin Air more than two to one. What happened? In short, Ama- recommendations. The online booksellers software noted patterns 
in buying behavior and suggested that readers who liked Into Thin Air would 
also like Touching the Void. People took the suggestion, agreed wholeheart- 
edly, wrote rhapsodic reviews. More sales, more algorithm-fueled recom- 
mendations, and the positive feedback loop kicked in. 

Particularly notable is that when Krakauer s book hit shelves, Simpsons 
was nearly out of print. A few years ago, readers of Krakauer would never 
even have learned about Simpson's book— and if they had, they wouldn't 
have been able to find it. Amazon changed that. It created the Touching the 
Void phenomenon by combining infinite shelf space with real-time informa- 
tion about buying trends and public opinion. The result: rising demand for 
an obscure book. 

This is not just a virtue of online booksellers: it is an example of an entirely 
new economic model for the media and entertainment industries, one that 
is just beginning to show its power. Unlimited selection is revealing truths 
about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after ser- 
vice, from DVDs at Netflix to music videos on Yahoo! Launch to songs in the 
iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, 


down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Block- 
buster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, 
the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they dis- 
cover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been 
led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture). 

An analysis of the sales data and trends from these services and others 
like them shows that the emerging digital entertainment economy is going 
to be radically different from today's mass market. If the twentieth-century 
entertainment industry was about hits, the twenty-first will be equally about 

For too long we've been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denom- 
inator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured 
pop. Why? Economics. Many of our assumptions about popular taste are 
actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching— a market response 
to inefficient distribution. The main problem, if that's the word, is that we live 
in the physical world and, until recently, most of our entertainment media 
did, too. But that world puts two dramatic limitations on our entertainment. 

The first is the need to find local audiences. An average movie theater will 
not show a film unless it can attract at least fifteen hundred people over a 
two-week run; that's essentially the rent for a screen. An average record store 
needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; 
that's the rent for a half inch of shelf space. And so on for DVD rental shops, 
videogame stores, booksellers, and newsstands. 

In each case, retailers will carry only content that can generates sufficient 
demand to earn its keep. But each can pull only from a limited local popula- 
tion — perhaps a ten-mile radius for a typical movie theater, less than that 
for music and bookstores, and even less (just a mile or two) for video-rental 
shops. It's not enough for a great documentary to have a potential national 
audience of half a million; what matters is how many it has in the northern 
part of Rockville, Maryland, and among the mall shoppers of Walnut Creek, 

There is plenty of great entertainment with potentially large, even raptur- 
ous, national audiences that cannot clear that bar. For instance, The Triplets 
of Belleville, a critically acclaimed film that was nominated for the best-ani- 
mated-feature Oscar this year, opened on just six screens nationwide. An 
even more striking example is the plight of Bollywood in America. Each 
year, India's film industry puts out more than eight hundred feature films. 
There are an estimated 1.7 million Indians in the United States. Yet the top- 
rated (according to Amazon's Internet Movie Database) Hindi-language 


Total Inventory 

Inventory in a Typical Store 

Rhapsody | 

Wal-Mart 39,000 songs* 

Barnes & Noble 130, 000 books* 

The New Growth Market 

Obscure products you can't 
get anywhere but online 


735,000 songs 

2.3 mil books 

25,000 DVDS 


Rhapsody Amazon 


Blockbuster 3,000 DVDs* 

| product not available in offline retail stores 
(% total sales) 


Average number 

of plays per month 

on Rhapsody 



39,000 100,000 200,000 500,000 

Titles ranked by popularity 
I songs available at both Wal-Mart and Rhapsody 
songs available only on Rhapsody 

Fig. 10.1. Anatomy of the long tail. Online services carry far more inventory than traditional 
retailers. Rhapsody, for example, offers nineteen times as many songs as Wal-Mart's stock of 
thirty-nine thousand tunes. The appetite for Rhapsody's more obscure tunes (charted in light 
grey) makes up the so-called Long Tail. Meanwhile, even as consumers flock to mainstream 
books, music, and films (bottom), there is real demand for niche fare found only online. 1 

film, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, opened on just two screens, and it 
was one of only a handful of Indian films to get any US distribution at all. In 
the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no 
audience at all. 

The other constraint of the physical world is physics itself. The radio 
spectrum can carry only so many stations, and a coaxial cable so many TV 
channels. And, of course, there are only twenty-four hours a day of program- 
ming. The curse of broadcast technologies is that they are profligate users of 
limited resources. The result is yet another instance of having to aggregate 
large audiences in one geographic area — another high bar, above which only 
a fraction of potential content rises. 

The past century of entertainment has offered an easy solution to these 
constraints. Hits fill theaters, fly off shelves, and keep listeners and viewers 
from touching their dials and remotes. Nothing wrong with that; indeed, 

The Long Tail 139 

sociologists will tell you that hits are hardwired into human psychology, the 
combinatorial effect of conformity and word of mouth. And to be sure, a 
healthy share of hits earn their place: great songs, movies, and books attract 
big, broad audiences. 

But most of us want more than just hits. Everyone's taste departs from 
the mainstream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more 
we're drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have 
been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order 
by industries that desperately need them. 

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to 
carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, 
DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available 
movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programs, not enough 
radio waves to play all the music created, and not enough hours in the day to 
squeeze everything out through either of those sets of slots. 

This is the world of scarcity. Now, with online distribution and retail, we 
are entering a world of abundance. And the differences are profound. 

To see how, meet Robbie Vann-Adibe, the CEO of Ecast, a digital juke- 
box company whose barroom players offer more than 150,000 tracks — and 
some surprising usage statistics. He hints at them with a question that visi- 
tors invariably get wrong: "What percentage of the top ten thousand titles in 
any online media store (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, or any other) will rent or 
sell at least once a month?" 

Most people guess 20 percent, and for good reason: we've been trained to 
think that way. The 80-20 rule, also known as Pareto's principle (after Vil- 
fredo Pareto, an Italian economist who devised the concept in 1906), is all 
around us. Only 20 percent of major studio films will be hits. Same for TV 
shows, games, and mass-market books — 20 percent all. The odds are even 
worse for major-label CDs, of which fewer than 10 percent are profitable, 
according to the Recording Industry Association of America. 

But the right answer, says Vann-Adibe, is 99 percent. There is demand for 
nearly every one of those top ten thousand tracks. He sees it in his own juke- 
box statistics; each month, thousands of people put in their dollars for songs 
that no traditional jukebox anywhere has ever carried. 

People get Vann-Adibe's question wrong because the answer is counterin- 
tuitive in two ways. The first is we forget that the 20 percent rule in the enter- 
tainment industry is about hits, not sales of any sort. We're stuck in a hit- 
driven mind-set — we think that if something isn't a hit, it won't make money 
and so won't return the cost of its production. We assume, in other words, 


that only hits deserve to exist. But Vann-Adibe, like executives at iTunes, 
Amazon, and Netflix, has discovered that the "misses" usually make money, 
too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up 
quickly to a huge new market. 

With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services 
like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss 
sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss 
are on equal economic footing, both just entries in a database called up on 
demand, both equally worthy of being carried. Suddenly, popularity no lon- 
ger has a monopoly on profitability. 

The second reason for the wrong answer is that the industry has a poor 
sense of what people want. Indeed, we have a poor sense of what we want. 
We assume, for instance, that there is little demand for the stuff that isn't 
carried by Wal-Mart and other major retailers; if people wanted it, surely it 
would be sold. The rest, the bottom 80 percent, must be subcommercial at 

But as egalitarian as Wal-Mart may seem, it is actually extraordinarily 
elitist. Wal-Mart must sell at least one hundred thousand copies of a CD 
to cover its retail overhead and make a sufficient profit; less than 1 percent 
of CDs do that kind of volume. What about the sixty thousand people who 
would like to buy the latest Fountains of Wayne or Crystal Method album or 
any other nonmainstream fare? They have to go somewhere else. Bookstores, 
the megaplex, radio, and network TV can be equally demanding. We equate 
mass market with quality and demand, when in fact it often just represents 
familiarity, savvy advertising, and broad, if somewhat shallow, appeal. What 
do we really want? We're only just discovering, but it clearly starts with more. 

To get a sense of our true taste, unfiltered by the economics of scarcity, 
look at Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service (owned by 
RealNetworks) that currently offers more than 735,000 tracks. Chart Rhap- 
sody's monthly statistics and you get a "power law" demand curve that looks 
much like any record store's, with huge appeal for the top tracks, tailing off 
quickly for less popular ones. But a really interesting thing happens once you 
dig below the top forty thousand tracks, which is about the amount of the 
fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the aver- 
age real-world record store. Here, the Wal-Marts of the world go to zero — 
either they don't carry any more CDs, or the few potential local takers for 
such fringy fare never find it or never even enter the store. 

The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of 
Rhapsody's top one hundred thousand tracks streamed at least once each 

The Long Tail 141 

month, but the same is true for its top two hundred thousand, top three hun- 
dred thousand, and top four hundred thousand. As fast as Rhapsody adds 
tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it's just a few people 
a month, somewhere in the country 

This is the Long Tail. 

You can find everything out there on the Long Tail. There's the back cata- 
log, older albums still fondly remembered by longtime fans or rediscovered 
by new ones. There are live tracks, B-sides, remixes, even (gasp) covers. 
There are niches by the thousands, genre within genre within genre: imagine 
an entire Tower Records devoted to '80s hair bands or ambient dub. There 
are foreign bands, once priced out of reach in the Import aisle, and obscure 
bands on even more obscure labels, many of which don't have the distribu- 
tion clout to get into Tower at all. 

Oh, sure, there's also a lot of crap. But there's a lot of crap hiding between 
the radio tracks on hit albums, too. People have to skip over it on CDs, but 
they can more easily avoid it online, since the collaborative filters typically 
won't steer you to it. Unlike the CD, where each crap track costs perhaps 
one-twelfth of a fifteen-dollar album price, online it just sits harmlessly on 
some server, ignored in a market that sells by the song and evaluates tracks 
on their own merit. 

What's really amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it. Combine 
enough nonhits on the Long Tail and you've got a market potentially as big as 
the hits. Take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet a 
quarter of Amazon's book sales already come from outside its top 130,000 titles. 
Consider the implication: if the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for 
books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is at least a third as large 
as the market for those that are. And that's a growing fraction. The potential 
book market may be half again as big as it appears to be, if only we can get over 
the economics of scarcity. Venture capitalist and former music- industry con- 
sultant Kevin Laws puts it this way: "The biggest money is in the smallest sales." 

The same is true for all other aspects of the entertainment business, to 
one degree or another. Just compare online and offline businesses: the aver- 
age Blockbuster carries fewer than three thousand DVDs. Yet a fifth of Net- 
flix rentals are outside its top three thousand titles. Rhapsody streams more 
songs each month beyond its top ten thousand than it does its top ten thou- 
sand. In each case, the market that lies outside the reach of the physical 
retailer is big and getting bigger. 

When you think about it, most successful businesses on the Internet are 
about aggregating the Long Tail in one way or another. Google, for instance, 


makes most of its money off small advertisers (the long tail of advertising), 
and eBay is mostly tail as well — niche and one-off products. By overcoming 
the limitations of geography and scale, just as Rhapsody and Amazon have, 
Google and eBay have discovered new markets and expanded existing ones. 
This is the power of the Long Tail. The companies at the vanguard of it are 
showing the way with three big lessons. Call them the new rules for the new 
entertainment economy. 

Rule v. Make Everything Available 

If you love documentaries, Blockbuster is not for you. Nor is any other video 
store — there are too many documentaries, and they sell too poorly to justify 
stocking more than a few dozen of them on physical shelves. Instead, you'll 
want to join Netflix, which offers more than a thousand documentaries — 
because it can. Such profligacy is giving a boost to the documentary busi- 
ness; last year, Netflix accounted for half of all US rental revenue for Captur- 
ing the Friedmans, a documentary about a family destroyed by allegations of 

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who's something of a documentary buff, took 
this newfound clout to PBS, which had produced Daughter from Danang, a 
documentary about the children of US soldiers and Vietnamese women. In 
2002, the film was nominated for an Oscar and was named best documentary 
at Sundance, but PBS had no plans to release it on DVD. Hastings offered to 
handle the manufacturing and distribution if PBS would make it available as 
a Netflix exclusive. Now Daughter from Danang consistently ranks in the top 
fifteen on Netflix documentary charts. That amounts to a market of tens of 
thousands of documentary renters that did not otherwise exist. 

There are any number of equally attractive genres and subgenres neglected 
by the traditional DVD channels: foreign films, anime, independent mov- 
ies, British television dramas, old American TV sitcoms. These underserved 
markets make up a big chunk. The availability of offbeat content drives new 
customers to Netflix — and anything that cuts the cost of customer acquisi- 
tion is gold for a subscription business. Thus the company's first lesson: 
embrace niches. 

Netflix has made a good business out of what's unprofitable fare in movie 
theaters and video rental shops because it can aggregate dispersed audiences. 
It doesn't matter if the several thousand people who rent Doctor Who epi- 
sodes each month are in one city or spread, one per town, across the coun- 
try — the economics are the same to Netflix. It has, in short, broken the tyr- 

The Long Tail 143 

Documentaries Available 



Local Blockbuster 


Fig. 10.2. The documentary niche gets richer. More than forty thousand documentaries have 
been released, according to the Internet Movie Database. Of those, carries 
40 percent, Netflix 3 percent, and the average Blockbuster just 0.2 percent. 2 

anny of physical space. What matters is not where customers are, or even 
how many of them are seeking a particular title, but only that some number 
of them exist, anywhere. 

As a result, almost anything is worth offering on the off chance it will 
find a buyer. This is the opposite of the way the entertainment industry now 
thinks. Today, the decision about whether or when to release an old film on 
DVD is based on estimates of demand, availability of extras such as com- 
mentary and additional material, and marketing opportunities such as anni- 
versaries, awards, and generational windows (Disney briefly rereleases its 
classics every ten years or so as a new wave of kids come of age). It's a high 
bar, which is why only a fraction of movies ever made are available on DVD. 

That model may make sense for the true classics, but it's way too much 
fuss for everything else. The Long Tail approach, by contrast, is to simply 
dump huge chunks of the archive onto bare-bones DVDs, without any extras 
or marketing. Call it the "Silver Series" and charge half the price. Same for 
independent films. This year, nearly six thousand movies were submitted to 
the Sundance Film Festival. Of those, 255 were accepted, and just two dozen 
have been picked up for distribution; to see the others, you had to be there. 

Why not release all 255 on DVD each year as part of a discount Sun- 
dance series? In a Long Tail economy, it's more expensive to evaluate than 
to release. Just do it! The same is true for the music industry. It should be 
securing the rights to release all the titles in all the back catalogs as quickly 
as it can — thoughtlessly, automatically, and at industrial scale. (This is one of 
those rare moments when the world needs more lawyers, not fewer.) So too 



for videogames. Retro gaming, including simulators of classic game consoles 
that run on modern PCs, is a growing phenomenon driven by the nostal- 
gia of the first joystick generation. Game publishers could release every title 
as a ninety-nine-cent download three years after its release — no support, no 
guarantees, no packaging. 

All this, of course, applies equally to books. Already, we're seeing a blur- 
ring of the line between in and out of print. Amazon and other networks 
of used booksellers have made it almost as easy to find and buy a second- 
hand book as it is a new one. By divorcing bookselling from geography, these 
networks create a liquid market at low volume, dramatically increasing both 
their own business and the overall demand for used books. Combine that 
with the rapidly dropping costs of print-on-demand technologies and it's 
clear why any book should always be available. Indeed, it is a fair bet that 
children today will grow up never knowing the meaning of "out of print." 

Rule 2: Cut the Price in Half, Now Lower It 

Thanks to the success of Apple's iTunes, we now have a standard price for a 
downloaded track: ninety-nine cents. But is it the right one? Ask the labels 
and they'll tell you it's too low: Even though ninety-nine cents per track 
works out to about the same price as a CD, most consumers just buy a track 
or two from an album online, rather than the full CD. In effect, online music 
has seen a return to the singles-driven business of the 1950s. So from a label 
perspective, consumers should pay more for the privilege of purchasing a la 
carte to compensate for the lost album revenue. 

Ask consumers, on the other hand, and they'll tell you that ninety-nine 
cents is too high. It is, for starters, ninety-nine cents more than Kazaa. But 
piracy aside, ninety-nine cents violates our innate sense of economic justice: 
if it clearly costs less for a record label to deliver a song online, with no pack- 
aging, manufacturing, distribution, or shelf space overheads, why shouldn't 
the price be less, too? 

Surprisingly enough, there's been little good economic analysis on what 
the right price for online music should be. The main reason for this is that 
pricing isn't set by the market today but by the record label demicartel. 
Record companies charge a wholesale price of around sixty-five cents per 
track, leaving little room for price experimentation by the retailers. 

That wholesale price is set to roughly match the price of CDs, to avoid 
dreaded "channel conflict." The labels fear that if they price online music 
lower, their CD retailers (still the vast majority of the business) will revolt or, 

The Long Tail 145 

more likely, go out of business even more quickly than they already are. In 
either case, it would be a serious disruption of the status quo, which terrifies 
the already spooked record companies. No wonder they're doing price calcu- 
lations with an eye on the downsides in their traditional CD business rather 
than the upside in their new online business. 

But what if the record labels stopped playing defense? A brave new look 
at the economics of music would calculate what it really costs to simply put 
a song on an iTunes server and adjust pricing accordingly. The results are 

Take away the unnecessary costs of the retail channel — CD manufactur- 
ing, distribution, and retail overheads. That leaves the costs of finding, mak- 
ing, and marketing music. Keep them as they are, to ensure that the people 
on the creative and label side of the business make as much as they currently 
do. For a popular album that sells three hundred thousand copies, the cre- 
ative costs work out to about $7.50 per disc, or around sixty cents a track. 
Add to that the actual cost of delivering music online, which is mostly the 
cost of building and maintaining the online service rather than the negli- 
gible storage and bandwidth costs. Current price tag: around seventeen cents 
a track. By this calculation, hit music is overpriced by 25 percent online — it 
should cost just seventy-nine cents a track, reflecting the savings of digital 

Putting channel conflict aside for the moment, if the incremental cost of 
making content that was originally produced for physical distribution avail- 
able online is low, the price should be, too. Price according to digital costs, 
not physical ones. 

All this good news for consumers doesn't have to hurt the industry. When 
you lower prices, people tend to buy more. Last year, Rhapsody did an experi- 
ment in elastic demand that suggested it could be a lot more. For a brief 
period, the service offered tracks at ninety-nine cents, seventy-nine cents, and 
forty-nine cents. Although the forty-nine-cent tracks were only half the price 
of the ninety-nine-cent tracks, Rhapsody sold three times as many of them. 

Since the record companies still charged sixty-five cents a track — and 
Rhapsody paid another eight cents per track to the copyright-holding pub- 
lishers — Rhapsody lost money on that experiment (but, as the old joke goes, 
made it up in volume). Yet much of the content on the Long Tail is older 
material that has already made back its money (or been written off for failing 
to do so): music from bands that had little record-company investment and 
was thus cheap to make, or live recordings, remixes, and other material that 
came at low cost. 


Creation Costs 

Marketing and Profit 



Divided by 12 tracks 

Production Costs 
Retail markup 





$.017 online delivery cost 



Fig. 10.3. The real cost of music. Online music services don't incur packaging, distribution, 
and retail fees — and they should charge accordingly 3 

Such "misses" cost less to make available than hits, so why not charge 
even less for them? Imagine if prices declined the further you went down 
the Tail, with popularity (the market) effectively dictating pricing. All 
it would take is for the labels to lower the wholesale price for the vast 
majority of their content not in heavy rotation; even a two- or three- 
tiered pricing structure could work wonders. And because so much of 
that content is not available in record stores, the risk of channel conflict is 
greatly diminished. The lesson: pull consumers down the tail with lower 

How low should the labels go? The answer comes by examining the psy- 
chology of the music consumer. The choice facing fans is not how many 
songs to buy from iTunes and Rhapsody but how many songs to buy rather 
than download for free from Kazaa and other peer-to-peer networks. Intui- 
tively, consumers know that free music is not really free: aside from any legal 
risks, it's a time-consuming hassle to build a collection that way. Labeling is 
inconsistent, quality varies, and an estimated 30 percent of tracks are defec- 
tive in one way or another. As Steve Jobs put it at the iTunes Music Store 
launch, you may save a little money downloading from Kazaa, but "you're 
working for under minimum wage." And what's true for music is doubly true 

The Long Tail 147 

for movies and games, where the quality of pirated products can be even 
more dismal, viruses are a risk, and downloads take so much longer. 

So free has a cost: the psychological value of convenience. This is the "not 
worth it" moment when the wallet opens. The exact amount is an impossible 
calculus involving the bank balance of the average college student multi- 
plied by his or her available free time. But imagine that for music, at least, it's 
around twenty cents a track. That, in effect, is the dividing line between the 
commercial world of the Long Tail and the underground. Both worlds will 
continue to exist in parallel, but it's crucial for Long Tail thinkers to exploit 
the opportunities between twenty and ninety-nine cents to maximize their 
share. By offering fair pricing, ease of use, and consistent quality, you can 
compete with free. 

Perhaps the best way to do that is to stop charging for individual tracks at 
all. Danny Stein, whose private equity firm owns eMusic, thinks the future 
of the business is to move away from the ownership model entirely. With 
ubiquitous broadband, both wired and wireless, more consumers will turn to 
the celestial jukebox of music services that offer every track ever made, play- 
able on demand. Some of those tracks will be free to listeners and advertising 
supported, like radio. Others, like eMusic and Rhapsody, will be subscription 
services. Today, digital music economics are dominated by the iPod, with its 
notion of a paid-up library of personal tracks. But as the networks improve, 
the comparative economic advantages of unlimited streamed music, either 
financed by advertising or a flat fee (infinite choice for $9.99 a month), may 
shift the market that way. And drive another nail in the coffin of the retail 
music model. 

Rule 3: Help Me Find It 

In 1997, an entrepreneur named Michael Robertson started what looked like 
a classic Long Tail business. Called MP3.c0m, it let anyone upload music 
files that would be available to all. The idea was the service would bypass 
the record labels, allowing artists to connect directly to listeners. MP3.c0m 
would make its money in fees paid by bands to have their music promoted 
on the site. The tyranny of the labels would be broken, and a thousand flow- 
ers would bloom. 

But it didn't work out that way. Struggling bands did not, as a rule, find 
new audiences, and independent music was not transformed. Indeed, MP3. 
com got a reputation for being exactly what it was: an undifferentiated mass 
of mostly bad music that deserved its obscurity. 


#340: Britney Spears 

#1010: Pink 

#5153: No Doubt 

#32,195: The Selecter 

Amazon Sales Rank 
Fig. 10.4. "If you like Britney, you'll love . . ."Just as lower prices can entice consumers down 
the Long Tail, recommendation engines drive them to obscure content they might not 
find otherwise. 4 

The problem with MP3.c0m was that it was only Long Tail. It didn't have 
license agreements with the labels to offer mainstream fare or much popular 
commercial music at all. Therefore, there was no familiar point of entry for 
consumers, no known quantity from which further exploring could begin. 

Offering only hits is no better. Think of the struggling video-on-demand 
services of the cable companies. Or think of Movielink, the feeble video- 
download service run by the studios. Due to overcontrolling providers and 
high costs, they suffer from limited content: in most cases just a few hundred 
recent releases. There's not enough choice to change consumer behavior, to 
become a real force in the entertainment economy. 

By contrast, the success of Netflix, Amazon, and the commercial music 
services shows that you need both ends of the curve. Their huge libraries of 
less mainstream fare set them apart, but hits still matter in attracting con- 
sumers in the first place. Great Long Tail businesses can then guide consum- 
ers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing 
their exploration of the unknown. 

For instance, the front screen of Rhapsody features Britney Spears, unsur- 
prisingly. Next to the listings of her work is a box of "similar artists." Among 
them is Pink. If you click on that and are pleased with what you hear, you 
may do the same for Pink's similar artists, which include No Doubt. And on 
No Doubt's page, the list includes a few "followers" and "influencers," the last 
of which includes the Selecter, a 1980s ska band from Coventry, England. In 

The Long Tail 149 


Profit threshold for physical stores 

(like Tower Records) 

Profit threshold for stores 
with no retail overhead 

Profit threshold for stores 
with no physical goods 
(like Rhapsody) 



Fig. 10.5. The bit player advantage. Beyond bricks and mortar, there are two main retail 
models — one that gets halfway down the Long Tail and another that goes all the way. The 
first is the familiar hybrid model of Amazon and Netflix, companies that sell physical 
goods online. Digital catalogs allow them to offer unlimited selection along with search, 
reviews, and recommendations, while the cost savings of massive warehouses and no 
walk-in customers greatly expands the number of products they can sell profitably. Push- 
ing this even further are pure digital services, such as iTunes, which offer the additional 
savings of delivering their digital goods online at virtually no marginal cost. Since an 
extra database entry and a few megabytes of storage on a server cost effectively nothing, 
these retailers have no economic reason not to carry everything available. 

three clicks, Rhapsody may have enticed a Britney Spears fan to try an album 
that can hardly be found in a record store. 

Rhapsody does this with a combination of human editors and genre 
guides. But Netflix, where 60 percent of rentals come from recommenda- 
tions, and Amazon do this with collaborative filtering, which uses the brows- 
ing and purchasing patterns of users to guide those who follow them ("Cus- 
tomers who bought this also bought . . ."). In each, the aim is the same: use 
recommendations to drive demand down the Long Tail. 

This is the difference between push and pull, between broadcast and per- 
sonalized taste. Long Tail business can treat consumers as individuals, offer- 
ing mass customization as an alternative to mass-market fare. 

The advantages are spread widely. For the entertainment industry itself, 
recommendations are a remarkably efficient form of marketing, allowing 
smaller films and less mainstream music to find an audience. For consumers, 



the improved signal-to-noise ratio that comes from following a good rec- 
ommendation encourages exploration and can reawaken a passion for music 
and film, potentially creating a far larger entertainment market overall. (The 
average Netflix customer rents seven DVDs a month, three times the rate at 
brick- and-mortar stores.) And the cultural benefit of all of this is much more 
diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity 
and ending the tyranny of the hit. 

Such is the power of the Long Tail. Its time has come. 


This chapter was originally published in Wired, October 2004. This version is based on 
the updated version published on Change This, December 14, 2004, http://changethis. 
com/manifesto/show/io.LongTail (accessed July 20, 2010). This work is licensed under 
the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu "Jeffrey" Hu, and Michael D. Smith, "Consumer Surplus in the 
Digital Economy: Estimating the Value of Increased Product Variety at Online Booksell- 
ers," Management Science 49, no. 11 [November 2003]: 1580-1596; Barnes & Noble, http://; Netflix,; Rhapsody, 

2. "Movies & TV > Documentary,", 
s/?node=26253730ii&field-theme_browse-bin=26503670ii; "Most Popular Documenta- 
ries," Internet Movie Database, com/search/title?genres=documentary; 

3. Jonathan Daniel and Joe Fleischer, Crush Music Media Management, interview, 

4. "Best Sellers in Music,", 

The Long Tail 151 

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How Creativity Is Being Strangled by the Law 


I've written five books. Four of these books are extraordinarily 
depressing. I like depressing, deep, dark stories about the inevitable destruc- 
tion of great, fantastic ideas. After my first child was born, my thinking 
began to shift some, and I wrote Remix, which is quite new in the collection 
because it's a fundamentally happy book or, at least, mostly a happy book. 
It's optimistic. It's about how certain fantastic ideas will win in this cultural 
debate. Though the problem is that I'm not actually used to this optimism; 
I'm not used to living in a world without hopelessness. So I'm actually mov- 
ing on from this field to focus on a completely hopeless topic, solving prob- 
lems of corruption, actually. Completely hopeless. But I am happy to come 
here to talk about this most recent book. 

I want to talk about it by telling you some stories, making an observa- 
tion, and constructing an argument about what we need to do to protect the 
opportunity that technology holds for this society. There are three stories. 

The first one is very short. A very long time ago, the elite spoke Latin, and 
the vulgar, the rest of the people, spoke other languages: English, French, and 
German. The elite ignored the masses. The masses ignored the elite. That's 
the first story. Very short, as I promised. 

Here's number two: In 1906, John Philip Sousa traveled to the United 
States Congress to talk about phonographs, a technology he called the "talk- 
ing machines." John Philip Sousa was not a fan of the talking machines. He 
was quoted as saying, "These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic 
development of music in this country. When I was a boy, in front of every 
house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together sing- 
ing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today you hear these infernal 
machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal 
cords will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man 
when he came from the ape." 1 


I want you to focus on this picture of "young people together singing the 
songs of the day or even old songs." This is culture. You could call it a kind 
of read/write culture. It's a culture where people participate in the creation 
and re-creation of their culture. It is read/write, and Sousa's fear was that 
we would lose the capacity to engage in this read/write creativity because 
of these "infernal machines." They would take it away, displace it, and in its 
place, we'd have the opposite of read/write creativity: a kind of read-only 
culture. A culture where creativity is consumed, but the consumer is not a 
creator. A culture that is top down: a culture where the "vocal cords" of the 
millions of ordinary people have been lost. 

Here is story three: In 1919, the United States voted itself dry as it launched 
an extraordinary war against an obvious evil — a war against the dependence 
on alcohol, a war inspired by the feminist movement, a war inspired by ideas 
of progressive reform, and a war that was inspired by the thought that gov- 
ernment could make us a better society. Ten years into that war, it was pretty 
clear this war was failing. In places around the country, they asked how we 
could redouble our efforts to win the war. In Seattle, the police started to 
find ways to fight back against these criminals using new technology: the 
wiretap. Roy Olmstead and eleven others found themselves the target of a 
federal investigation into his illegal production and distribution of alcohol. 
His case, Olmstead v. the United States (1928), was heard by the Supreme 
Court to decide whether the wiretap was legal. 2 When the police tapped the 
phones of Olmsted and his colleagues, they didn't get a judge's permission, 
or a warrant, they just tapped the phones. The Supreme Court looked at the 
Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against "unreason- 
able searches and seizures." Chief Justice Taft concluded that the wiretap 
was not proscribed by this amendment. He said the Fourth Amendment 
was designed to protect against trespassing. But wiretapping doesn't involve 
any necessary trespass: they didn't enter Olmstead's home to attach anything 
to the wires; they attached the wiretap after the wires left Olmsted's home. 
There was no trespass, therefore no violation of the Fourth Amendment. 

Louis Brandeis, in voicing his dissent, argued vigorously for a different 
principle. Brandeis said the objective of the Fourth Amendment was to pro- 
tect against a certain form of invasion, so as to protect the privacy of people. 
He argued that how you protect privacy is a function of technology, and we 
need to translate the old protections from one era into a new context. He 
used the phrase "time works changes," citing Weems v. United States (1910). 
Brandeis lost in that case and the wiretap won, but the war that the wire- 
tap was aiding was quickly recognized to be a failure. By 1933 people recog- 


nized this failure in increased costs they hadn't even anticipated when they 
first enacted this prohibition: the rise in organized crime and the fall in civil 
rights. They were also seeing a vanishing benefit from this war: everybody 
still drank. They realized that maybe the costs of this war were greater than 
the benefits. And so, in 1933 the Twenty-First Amendment repealed the Eigh- 
teenth Amendment, and Prohibition ended. Importantly, what was repealed 
was not the aim of fighting the dependence on alcohol but the idea of using 
war to fight this dependence. 

Those are the stories, and here's the observation. In a sense that should 
be obvious, writing is an extraordinarily democratic activity. I don't mean 
that we vote to decide what people can write. I mean that everyone should 
have the capacity to write. Why do we teach everyone to write and measure 
education by the capacity people have to write? By "write," I mean more than 
just grade-school knowledge to make shopping lists and send text messages 
on cell phones. More specifically, between ninth grade and college, why do 
we waste time on essays on Shakespeare or Hemingway or Proust? What do 
we expect to gain? Because, as an academic, I can tell you the vast majority 
of this writing is just crap. So why do we force kids to suffer, and why do we 
force their professors to suffer this "creativity"? 

The obvious answer is that we learn something. In the process of learning 
how to write, we at least learn respect for just how hard this kind of creativity 
is, and that respect is itself its own value. In this democratic practice of writ- 
ing, which we teach everyone, we include quoting. I had a friend in college 
who wrote essays that were all exactly like this: strings of quotes from other 
people's writings that were pulled together in a way that was so convincing 
that he never got anything less than an A+ in all of his university writing 
classes. Now, he would take and use and build upon other people's words 
without permission of the other authors: so long as you cite. In my view, pla- 
giarism is the only crime for which the death penalty is appropriate. So long 
as you cite, you can take whatever you want and use it for your purpose in 
creating. Imagine if the rule were different; imagine you went around and 
asked for permission to quote. Imagine how absurd it would be to write the 
Hemingway estate and ask for permission to include three lines in an essay 
about Hemingway for your English class. When you recognize how absurd 
it is, you've recognized how this is an essentially democratic form of expres- 
sion; the freedom to take and use freely is built into our assumptions about 
how we create what we write. 

Here's the argument. I want to think about writing or, more broadly, creat- 
ing in a digital age. What should the freedom to write, the freedom to quote, 

REMIX I 157 

the freedom to remix be? Notice the parallels that exist between this question 
and the stories that I've told. As with the war of Prohibition, we, in the United 
States, are in the middle of a war. Actually, of course, we're in the middle of 
many wars, but the one I want to talk about is the copyright war, those which 
my friend the late Jack Valenti used to refer to as his own "terrorist war." 3 
Apparently the terrorists in this war are our children. As with the war Sousa 
launched, this war is inspired by artists and an industry terrified that changes 
in technology will effect a radical change in how culture gets made. As with 
the Twenty-First Amendment, these wars are raising an important new ques- 
tion: Are the costs of this war greater than its benefits? Or, alternatively, can 
we obtain the benefits without suffering much of the costs? 

Now, to answer that question, we need to think first about the benefits 
of copyright. Copyright is, in my view, an essential solution to a particular 
unavoidable economic problem. It may seem like a paradox, but we would 
get less speech without copyright. Limiting the freedom of some people to 
copy creates incentives to create more speech. That's a perfect and happy 
story, and it should function in exactly this way. But, as with privacy, the 
proper regulation has to reflect changes in technology. As the technol- 
ogy changes, the architecture of the proper regulation is going to change. 
What made sense in one period might not make sense in another. We need 
to adjust, in order to achieve the same value in a different context. So with 
copyright, what would the right regulation be? 

The first point of regulation would be to distinguish, as Sousa did, between 
the amateur and the professional. Copyright needs to encourage both. We 
need to have the incentives for the professional and the freedom for the ama- 
teur. We can see something about how to do this by watching the evolution 
of digital technologies in the Internet era. The first stage begins around 2000, 
which is a period of extraordinary innovation to extend read-only culture. 
Massively efficient technology enables people to consume culture created 
elsewhere. Apple's iTunes Music Store allows you to download culture for 
ninety-nine cents, though only to an iPod and, of course, only to your iPod 
(and a few other iPods whose owners you trust with your iTunes login). This 
is an extraordinarily important and valuable part of culture, which my col- 
league Paul Goldstein used to refer to as the "celestial jukebox." 4 This step is 
critically important, as it gives people access to extraordinary diversity for 
the first time in human history. That is one stage. 

A second stage begins around 2004, a reviving of Sousa's read/write cul- 
ture. The poster child for this culture is probably something like Wikipedia, 
but the version I want to focus on is something I call "remix." Think about 


remix in the context of music. Everybody knows the Beatles' White Album. It 
inspired Jay Z s Black Album, which inspired DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album, 
which literally synthesizes the tracks so that the White Album and Black 
Album together produce something gray. That's 2004: two albums synthe- 
sized together in what came to be known as a mashup. The equivalent today 
is something like the work of Girl Talk, who synthesizes up to 280 differ- 
ent songs together into one particular song. Think in the same context about 
film: in 2004, with a budget of $218, Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation makes 
its debut in wowing Cannes and wining the 2004 Los Angeles International 
Film Festival. 5 Caouette took twenty years of Super- 8 and VHS home movies 
and an iMac given to him by a friend to create an incredibly moving docu- 
mentary about his life and relationship with his mentally ill mother. On a 
more modest but more prevalent level, YouTube is full of something called 
anime music videos. These videos are anime, the Japanese cartoons sweep- 
ing America today. It is not just kids making them, but we'll just pretend for 
a second that it is kids who take the original video and reedit it to a different 
sound track. It can be banal or interesting. And almost all of this read/write 
has emerged on YouTube. 

Many people focus on the copyrighted TV shows that are digitized and 
posted onto YouTube overnight. I want you to think about the call-and- 
response pattern that YouTube inspires, where someone will create some- 
thing and then someone else will create another version of the same thing. 
A hip-hop artist named Soulja Boy created a song called "Crank Dat," which 
featured a dance called "The Superman." The beat was catchy; the lyrics 
were literally a set of instructions on how to reproduce the dance. The orig- 
inal music video was a low-budget demonstration of the steps required to 
reproduce the dance. 6 And reproduce it did. 7 That how-to video has been 
viewed over forty million times as of June 2009. There are hundreds, if not 
thousands, of videos of the Soulja Boy Superman dance— each one build- 
ing on the next: cartoon characters, people of all ethnicities, Internet celebri- 
ties, politicians. 8 The point is these are increasingly conversations between 
young people from around the world. YouTube has become a platform where 
people talk to each other. It's the modern equivalent of what Sousa spoke of 
when he spoke of "the young people together, singing the songs of the day 
or the old songs." But rather than gathering on the front lawn, they now do 
it with digital technologies, sharing creativity with others around the world. 

Just today I discovered a remix of the presidential debates that emphasizes 
the prevalence of talking points through remix. 9 Many people saw the "Yes 
We Can" video featuring famous musicians singing along to one of Barack 

REMIX I 159 

Obama's speeches. 10 This kind of pastiche of songs, sounds, and words has 
become a natural way to express politics that maybe a decade ago would not 
have been understandable. 11 My favorite is Johan Soderberg's "Bush Blair 
Endless Love," which edits their speeches to a love song by Diana Ross and 
Lionel Ritchie. 12 I'm very sad, but this is one of the last times I get to share 
this one, as Bush's term is ending shortly. 

Remix has nothing to do with technique, because the techniques this 
work employs have been available to filmmakers and videographers from 
the beginning of those forms of expression. What's important here is that 
the technique has been democratized for anyone who has access to a fifteen- 
hundred- dollar computer. Anyone can take images, sounds, video from the 
culture around us and remix them in ways that speak to a generation more 
powerfully than raw text ever could. That's the key. This is just writing for 
the twenty-first century. We who spend our lives writing have to recognize 
that nonmultimedia, plain alphanumeric text in the twenty- first century is 
the Latin from the Middle Ages. The words, images, sounds, and videos of 
the twenty-first century speak to the vulgar; they are the forms of expression 
that are understood by most people. The problem is that the laws govern- 
ing quoting in these new forms of expression are radically different from the 
norms that govern quoting from text. In this new form of expression that has 
swept through online communities that use digital technology, permission is 
expected first. Why is there this difference? 

It is a simple, technical clause in the law, a conflict between two architec- 
tures of control. One architecture, copyright, is triggered every time a copy 
is made. The other architecture, digital technology, produces a copy in every 
single use of culture. This is radical change in the way copyright law regu- 
lated culture. 

Think, for example, about a book that is regulated in physical space by 
copyright law. An important set of uses of a book constitute free uses of a 
book, because to read a book is not to produce a copy. To give someone a 
book is not a fair use of a book; it's a free use of a book, because to give some- 
one a book is not to produce a copy of a book. To sell a book requires no per- 
mission from the copyright owner, because to sell a book is not to produce a 
copy. To sleep on a book is an unregulated act in every jurisdiction around 
the world because sleeping on a book does not produce a copy. These unreg- 
ulated uses are balanced with a set of regulated uses that create the incen- 
tives necessary to produce great new works. If you want to publish a book, 
you need permission from the copyright owner. In the American tradition, 
there is a thin sliver of "fair use," exceptions that would otherwise have been 


regulated by the law but which the law says ought to remain free to create the 
incentive for people to build upon or critique earlier work. 

Enter the Internet, where every single use produces a copy: we go from 
this balance between unregulated, regulated, and fair uses to a presump- 
tive rule of regulated uses merely because the platform through which we 
get access to our culture has changed, rendering this read/write activity pre- 
sumptively illegal. DJ Danger Mouse knew he could never get permission 
from the Beatles to remix their work. Caouette discovered he could wow 
Cannes for $218, then discovered it would cost over $400,000 to clear the 
rights to the music in the background of the video that he had shot. Anime 
music videos are increasingly getting takedowns and notices from lawyers 
who are not happy about the one thousand hours of remixed video needed 
to create the anime music videos. And back to my favorite example of "Bush 
Blair Endless Love": I don't care what you think about Tony Blair, I don't care 
what you think about George Bush, and I don't care what you think about the 
war. The one thing that you cannot say about this video is what the lawyers 
said when they were asked for permission to synchronize those images with 
that soundtrack. The lawyers said no, you can't have our permission, because 
"it's not funny." So the point here is to recognize that no one in Congress 
ever thought about this. There was no ATM-RECA Act, the "Act to Massively 
Regulate Every Creative Act" Act. This is the unintended consequence of the 
interaction between two architectures of regulation, and, in my view, this is 
problem number one: the law is fundamentally out of sync with the tech- 
nology. And, just as with the Fourth Amendment, this needs to be updated. 
Copyright law needs an update. 

Problem number two is what those who live in Southern California typi- 
cally think of as problem number one: piracy or, more specifically, peer- 
to-peer piracy. Piracy is the "terrorism" that Jack Valenti spoke of when he 
called kids terrorists. Now, I think this is a problem; I don't support people 
using technology to violate other people's rights. In my book Free Culture 
and in Remix, I repeatedly say you should not use peer-to-peer networks to 
copy without the permission of the copyright owner. But all of that acknowl- 
edged, we need to recognize that this war of prohibition has not worked; it 
has not changed the bad behavior. Here's a chart of peer-to-peer simultane- 
ous users (see fig. in). The one thing we learn from this chart is that peer- 
to-peer users don't seem to read the Supreme Court's briefs: the arrow marks 
the date that the Supreme Court declared completely, unambiguously, that 
this is presumptively illegal. After the ruling, the number of users did not 

REMIX I 161 











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All this war has done is produce a generation of "criminals." That part 
of the story is very ugly unhappy and sad. It is the sort of inspiration that I 
used for my last book, Free Culture. But times have changed, and the story in 
Remix is a story of change, a change that is inspired by what I think of as the 
third stage in this development: the development of hybrid economies. 

To understand a hybrid economy, first think about what "economies" 
means. Economies are repeated practices of exchange, over time between at 
least two parties. I want to identify three such economies. First, there are 
commercial economies. At the grocery store it is a quid pro quo: you get a 
certain number of bananas for a certain number of dollars. Money is how we 
speak in this economy. Second, there are economies where money is not part 
of the exchange. For example, two kids playing on the playground is a shar- 
ing economy. Friends going out to lunch sharing their time with each other 
is a sharing economy. And romantic love is a sharing economy. They are 
economies, because they exist over time, but, for these economies, money is 
not how we speak. Indeed, if we introduced money into these economies, we 
would radically change them. Imagine if two friends were planning a lunch 
date, and one says, "How about next week?" and the other one says, "Nah, 
how about fifty dollars instead?" Or consider that when money is introduced 
into romantic relationships, it radically changes the meaning of that econ- 
omy for both parties involved. These are both rich and important economies 
that coexist with the commercial economy. They don't necessarily compete, 
but we want lives where we have both. 

Now the Internet, of course, has produced both commercial and sharing 
economies. The Internet has commercial economies where people leverage 
knowledge to produce financial value, and it has sharing economies like 
Wikipedia or free sound resources like or SETI@home, where 
people make their resources available to discover information about the uni- 
verse. The Internet also has hybrid economies, which I want to focus on. 

A hybrid economy is one where a commercial entity leverages a sharing 
economy or a sharing entity leverages a commercial economy. I'm not going 
to talk about the second case. I want to focus on the first case, where com- 
mercial economies leverage sharing economies. So here are some examples, 
obvious examples. Flickr, from its very birth, was a photo-sharing site that 
built sharing into its DNA. Indeed, it facilitated sharing by setting "public" 
as the default viewing state for all uploaded images and giving people the 
option to license their photos explicitly under a Creative Commons license. 
This sharing enabled community creation. Yahoo bought Flickr with the goal 
of leveraging value out of this sharing economy. Likewise, Yelp has exploded, 

REMIX I 163 

as thousands of people around the world share reviews of hotels or restau- 
rants. These shared reviews, which people do for free, produce value for Yelp. 
Second Life began as a virtual world filled with big blue oceans and beauti- 
ful green fields, but through literally hundreds and thousands of hours of 
volunteer labor by people from around the world creating objects, places, 
and buildings, they have produced an extraordinarily rich environment that 
attracts people to Second Life and which profits the company, Linden Labs. 13 

These are examples of what I think of as a hybrid. Once you see these 
examples, you will begin to see hybrids everywhere. Is Amazon really a com- 
mercial economy in this sense? Because, though it is selling books, much of 
the value of Amazon comes from the enormous amount of activity that peo- 
ple devote toward helping other people navigate the products which Amazon 
tries to sell. Apple is doing this. Even Microsoft gets this deep down in its 
DNA. Of course, Microsoft builds much of its support through volunteers 
who spend an enormous amount of their time not helping their local church 
but helping other people run Microsoft products more simply. Now this is 
not an accident. Mark Smith, a very bright former academic, works in some- 
thing called the Community Technologies Group at Microsoft. This group 
develops all sorts of technologies to gauge the health of these communities, 
to encourage these communities to be more healthy so that other people 
want to spend more unpaid time helping Microsoft get richer. This dynamic 
is extraordinary. And it's no surprise, then, that at a conference about a year 
and one-half ago, I heard Steve Ballmer declare that every single successful 
Internet business will be a hybrid business. I think there is enormous prom- 
ise in these hybrid combinations of free culture and free markets. This pres- 
ents an enormous potential for the Internet economy to drive value back into 
these creative industries. That is the argument for what I think can happen, 
but this takes us doing something to produce it. 

I want to identify two kinds of changes. The first change is a very techni- 
cal legal change: the law needs to give up the obsession with the copy. As 
discussed earlier, copyright law is triggered on the production of every copy. 
This is, to use a technical and legal term, insane. I believe the law needs to 
focus on meaningful activity; in a digital world, the copy is not a meaning- 
ful activity. Meaningful activity, instead, is a function of the context of the 
copy's use. Context will help us distinguish between copies and remixes. We 
need to distinguish between taking someone's work and just duplicating it 
versus doing something with the work that creates something new. Context 
will help us distinguish between the professional and amateur. The copyright 
law, as it exists right now, presumptively regulates all this in the same way. 


Never before in the history of copyright law has it regulated so broadly In 
my view, it makes no sense to regulate this broadly right now Instead, copy- 
right law needs to focus on professional work being copied without being 
remixed. It needs to effectively guarantee professionals can control copies of 
their works that are made available commercially Amateurs making remixes 
need to have free use, not fair use; they need to be exempted from the law of 
copyright. Amateurs need to be able to remix work without worrying about 
whether a lawyer would approve their remix or not. And between these two 
very easy cases, there are two very hard cases, professional remixes and ama- 
teur copying, cases where the law of fair use needs to continue to negotiate to 
make sure that sufficient incentives are created while leaving important cre- 
ativity free. Now, if you look at this and you have any conservative instincts 
inside you, you might recognize this as a kind of conservative argument. I 
am arguing in favor of deregulating a significant space of culture and focus- 
ing regulation where the regulators can convince us that it will be doing 
some good. That's change number one. 

Change number two is about peer-to-peer piracy. As discussed earlier, we 
have to recognize we're a decade into a war on piracy that has totally failed. In 
response to totally failed wars, some continue to wage that same war against 
the enemy. That was Jack Valenti's instinct. My instinct is the opposite. It's to 
stop suing kids and to start suing for peace. For the past decade, the very best 
scholars around the country have created an enormous number of propos- 
als for ways to facilitate compensation to artists without breaking the Inter- 
net, proposals like compulsory licenses or the voluntary collective license. 14 
But as you look at all of these proposals, what we should recognize is what 
the world would have been like if we had had these proposals a decade ago. 
Number one, artists would have more money; of course, artists get nothing 
from peer-to-peer file sharing, and they don't get anything when lawyers sue 
to stop peer-to-peer file sharing (because any money collected goes to the 
lawyers, not the artists). Number two, we would have more competition in 
businesses; the rules would be clearer, so there would be more businesses 
that could get venture capital to support them as they innovate around ways 
to make content more easily accessible. Number three, and the point that is 
most important to me, is that we would not have a generation of criminals 
surrounding us. We need to consider these proposals now. We need this legal 

The law needs to change, but so do we. We need to find ways to chill con- 
trol-obsessed individuals and corporations that believe the single objective of 
copyright law is to control use, rather than thinking about the objective of 

REMIX I 165 

copyright law as to create incentives for creation. We need to practice respect 
for this new generation of creators. For example, there is a kind of hybrid 
which I unfairly refer to as a Darth Vader hybrid. This name was inspired 
by the Star Wars MashUps site that enables users to remix this thirty-year- 
old franchise through access to video footage from the films, into which you 
can upload and insert your own material. You can integrate your own music 
and pictures into the Star Wars series. But if you read the terms of service 
for this site, the mashups are all owned by Lucas Film. 15 Indeed, Lucas Film 
has a worldwide perpetual license to exploit all content you upload for free, 
without any recognition back to the original creator. Yes, this is a hybrid econ- 
omy, but an economy where the creator doesn't have any rights. Instead, it's a 
sharecropping economy in the digital age. This is an important understand- 
ing to track because people are increasingly taking notice of the way hybrid 
economies work and wondering whether there is justice in it. Om Malik asks, 
does "this culture of participation . . . build businesses on our collective backs? 
. . . Whatever 'the collective efforts' are, they are going to boost the economic 
value of those entities. Will they share in their upside? Not likely!" 16 

We increasingly arrive at this question: what is a just hybrid? I don't 
think we know the answer to that question completely. I do think we have 
some clues. Neither historical nor digital sharecropping is a just hybrid. So 
how, then, can we express this respect? One way to express this respect is 
to practice it. Companies can practice it, and you can practice it by doing as 
Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Girl Talk, Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Spoon, 
Fort Minor, Danger Mouse, Gilberto Gil, Thievery Corporation, Matmos, 
Cee-Lo, Le Tigre, and My Morning Jacket have done, making your works 
available in ways that expressly permit people to share and build upon your 
works. Many companies are already doing this, companies like Flickr, Blip 
TV, Picasa, Fotonaut, Yahoo, and, I promise, before the end of next year, 
Wikipedia. 17 All of these entities build encouragement on top of Creative 
Commons licenses — licenses which we launched in 2003 and which over 
the past six years have exploded in numbers so that there are probably more 
than 150 million digital objects out there that are licensed under Creative 
Commons licenses. This is a way to say to creators, "We respect the creativity 
you have produced. We give you a freedom to express that respect to oth- 
ers." And it's an opportunity for us to say "happy birthday" to Creative Com- 
mons because it turns six today. And you can say "happy birthday" by giving 
money at But of course you can't sing 
"Happy Birthday," because it is still under copyright, and we haven't cleared 
those rights. That's what we need to do, and your support is really critical. 


I want to end with just one more story. I was asked to go the Association of 
the Bar of the City of New York and speak in a beautiful room with red velvet 
curtains and red carpet. The event had many different aspects. The room was 
packed with artists and creators and at least some lawyers. All of these people 
were there because they were eager to learn how they could create using digital 
technologies, while respecting the law of fair use. The people who organized 
this conference had a lawyer speak on each of the four factors in fair use for fif- 
teen minutes, with the thought that, by the end of the hour, wed have an audi- 
ence filled with people who understood the law of fair use. As I sat there and 
watched in the audience, I was led to a certain kind of daydreaming. I was try- 
ing to remember what this room reminded me of. And then I recalled when I 
was a kid in my early twenties, I spent a lot of time traveling the Soviet system, 
seeing great halls where the annual conventions took place. I recognized that 
the room had reminded me of the Soviet systems extraordinary tribunals. I 
began to wonder, when was it in the history of the Soviet system that the sys- 
tem had failed, and what could you have said to convince people of that? 1976 
was way too early: it was still puttering along at that point. And 1989 was too 
late: if you didn't get it by then, you weren't going to get it. So when was it? 
Between 1976 and 1988, if you could have convinced members of the Polit- 
buro that the system had failed, what could you have said to them to convince 
them? For them to know that this romantic ideal that they grew up with had 
crashed and burned and yet to continue with the Soviet system was to reveal 
a certain kind of insanity. Because, as I sat in that room and listened to law- 
yers insisting, "Nothing has changed. The same rules apply. It's the pirates who 
are the deviants," I increasingly recognize that it is we who are insane, that the 
existing system of copyright simply could never work in the digital age. Either 
we will force our kids to stop creating, or they will force on us a revolution 
around copyright law. In my view, both options are not acceptable. 

Copyright extremists need to recognize that there is a growing move- 
ment of abolitionism out there. Kids were convinced that copyright was for 
another century and that in the twenty-first century it is just not needed. 
Now, I am not an abolitionist. I believe copyright is an essential part of a 
creative economy. It makes a creative economy rich in both the monetary 
and cultural sense. In this sense, I'm more like Gorbachev in this debate 
than Yeltsin. I'm just an old Communist trying to preserve copyright against 
these extremisms — extremisms that will, in my view, destroy copyright as an 
important part of creative culture and industries. 

Now, you may not be concerned about the survival of copyright. You 
may say, "Whatever. If it disappears, my machines will still run." If that's not 

REMIX I 167 

enough to get you into this battle, let me try one last effort. What you know 
is that there is no way for us to kill this form of creativity We can only crimi- 
nalize it. We can't stop our kids from creating in these new ways; we can only 
drive that creativity underground. We can't make our kids passive the way I, 
at least, was. We can only make them "pirates." The question is, is that any 
good? Our kids live in an age of prohibition. All sorts of aspects of their life 
are against the law. They live their life against the law. That way of living is 
extraordinarily corrosive. It is extraordinarily corrupting of the rule of law 
and ultimately corrupting to the premise of a democracy. If you do noth- 
ing else, after you've supported Creative Commons, you need to support this 
movement to stop this war now. 


This chapter was transcribed and edited by Michael Mandiberg from a talk given at the 
Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, December 16, 2008. Lessig 
gave versions of this stump-style speech to share his ideas on free culture and promote 
Creative Commons. He kept the basic structure of a series of stories, observations, and 
a call to arms but updated the examples in the later part to reflect the rapid changes in 
digital culture. I have tried to preserve Lessig's powerful didactic, spoken presentation 
style, while streamlining the transcript to be effective in print form. The video of this talk 
is available at (accessed May 31, 2009). This chapter is 
licensed CC BY. 

1. United States Congress, House Committee on Patents, Arguments before the Com- 
mittee on Patents of the House of Representatives, Conjointly with the Senate Committee on 
Patents, on H.R. 19853, to Amend and Consolidate the Acts Respecting Copyright: June 6, 7, 8, 
and 9, 1906 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1906), http://books. google. 
com/books?id=zmEoAAAAMAAJ&printsec=titlepage#PPA24,Mi (accessed May 31, 

2. Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928). 

3. Amy Harmon, "Black Hawk Download: Pirated Videos Thrive Online," New York 
Times, January 17, 2002, 
html (accessed May 31, 2009). 

4. Paul Goldstein, Copyright's Highway: From Gutenberg to the Celestial Jukebox (Stan- 
ford: Stanford University Press, 2003). 

5. Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, "Untold Stories: Collaborative Research on 
Documentary Filmmakers' Free Speech and Fair Use," Cinema Journal 46, no. 2 (2007): 
133-139, (accessed July 
20, 2010). 

6. Soulja Boy, "How to Crank That — instructional video!" YouTube, originally posted 
April 2007, reposted August 2, 2007, 
(accessed May 31, 2009). At this point, Soulja Boy is still a self-produced amateur, without 
a label. Interscope signed him and made an official music video for the song: Soulja Boy, 
"Crank That," YouTube, August 9, 2007, 


(accessed July 20, 2010). The premise of the official video is to reenact the discovery of 
Soulja Boy on YouTube: the hip-hop producer Mr. Collipark, who signed him to Inter- 
scope, is trying to understand the Soulja Boy phenomenon, after watching his children 
dance and surfing YouTube and seeing all of the videos that build on each other. He 
instant messages with Soulja Boy, eventually signing him to a record deal. 

7. Ironically, after Interscope signed the artist, some of these fan videos have been 
subject to DMCA takedowns: see Kevin Driscoll, "Soulja Boy, Why Take My Crank Dat 
Video Down?" response video posted on YouTube, May 31, 2009, 
com/watch ?v=wkeaxXLIjhs. 

8. A tiny sampling of the Soulja Boy meme includes BEA5TED, "Soulja Boy — 
Crank Dat Pinocchio," YouTube, January 5, 2008, 
watch?v=aUM6NLeWQDc (accessed July 20, 2010); djtji2i6, "Dora the Explorer 
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)," YouTube, July 13, 2007, 
watch?v=vgMgLjMghuk (accessed July 20, 2010); Eric Schwartz, aka Smooth-E, 
"Crank That Kosha Boy," YouTube, December 5, 2007, 
watch?v=9oYDBtCN-hk (accessed July 20, 2010); Barelypolitical, "Obama Girl . . . Does 
Soulja Boy . . . with Mike Gravel," YouTube, May 9, 2008, 
watch?v=RkZwF96IOyA (accessed July 20, 2010); Jordan Ross, "Crank That Soldier Boy," 
YouTube, July 21, 2007, com/watch ?v=7ZE20zguWHo (accessed July 
20, 2010). 

9., "Synchronized Presidential Debating," YouTube, October 28, 2008, http:// com/watch ?v=wfd5g8Y_Jqo (accessed May 31, 2009). 

10. will. i. am et al., "Yes We Can," YouTube, February 2, 2008, 
watch?v=jjXyqcx-mYY (accessed May 31, 2009). 

11. For example, think about how differently this video treats editing and remix than 
the famous "We Are the World" video of the previous generation. 

12. Johan Soderberg, "Read My Lips: Eternal Love," 2001-2004, http://www.soderberg. 
tv (accessed July 20, 2010). 

13. Editor's Note: Not only is this labor unpaid, but it is done by customers who pay for 
the privilege to do this unpaid work; customers are charged a fee for monthly virtual land 
use, which we might call rent. 

14. For more on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's alternate schema, see http:// 
(accessed May 31, 2009). 

15. See (accessed May 31, 

16. Om Malik, "Web 2.0, Community & the Commerce Conundrum,", 
October 18, 2005, 
conundrum/ (accessed May 31, 2009). 

17. In May 2009, the Wikipedia Community voted to switch from the GFDL license to 
a Creative Commons license: 
(accessed May 31, 2009). 

REMIX 169 


Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 


Of Bouncers and Doormen 

Although digital technologies are famous for "disintermediating" creators 
and audiences, the vast majority of video creators still depend on interme- 
diaries to reach their audiences. Whether creators are making a film for 
theatrical distribution, a documentary for public broadcasters, or a humor- 
ous short for YouTube, they will be dependent on one or more commercial 
entities to carry their video to its intended audience. Consequently, it can be 
valuable for creative artists in the video arena to understand how the inter- 
mediaries on whom they intend to depend see the world. 

Copyright is one critical issue that constrains intermediaries that carry 
video content. As any video creator who has struggled with "clearances" can 
attest, copyright is an omnipresent issue for video, arising whenever music 
is used in a production, a clip is taken from an existing film or television 
program, or a TV show appears in the background of a shot. The reality is 
that virtually all modern video creativity involves the use of some preexisting 
copyrighted work. 

Because copyright is so often an issue of concern to intermediaries, it 
behooves video creators to understand how their intended intermediaries 
view copyright. In particular, it can be useful to understand that, thanks to 
the vagaries of copyright law, very different rules apply to traditional offline 
and newer online video distributors. 

Traditional offline intermediaries, like television networks, theatrical dis- 
tributors, and DVD distributors, often face very strict copyright rules, as is 
described in more detail later in this chapter. As a result, they have developed 
what has been called a "clearance culture"— the expectation that express per- 
mission will have been obtained for every copyrighted work that appears in 
a video. 1 This focus on clearances often goes hand in hand with an insistence 
on "errors and omissions" (often referred to as "E and O") insurance to cover 
them if any mistakes in clearances leads to a copyright- infringement law- 


suit. In other words, the legal staffs of traditional offline intermediaries are 
like doormen, minding the velvet rope — they have to be satisfied before your 
video will be put on the air, in theaters, or sold on DVD. 

Internet intermediaries like YouTube, in contrast, face a different set of 
copyright rules, rules that make them far more willing to adopt an "upload 
first, ask questions later" approach to video creators. This does not mean 
"anything goes" — if a copyright owner complains about an unauthorized use 
of material, the intermediary may have to take steps to remove the allegedly 
infringing content. And, of course, the video creator can be sued directly 
for copyright infringement. But, as a general matter, the legal departments 
of online video-hosting platforms are more like bouncers than doormen — 
they do not have to be consulted before the video is uploaded but, rather, get 
involved only if someone complains. 

This nevertheless is a critical distinction: in the online context, video cre- 
ators who have educated themselves on principles of copyright and believe 
that they are on the right side of the law (or willing to take the risk of being 
on the wrong side) are able to reach an audience of millions. This "lawyer- 
free" level of access to a mass-media platform has not previously been avail- 
able in the offline world. 

This represents a huge opportunity for video creators and a boon for audi- 
ences. For most of the modern media age, creators and audiences have only 
been entitled to see the material that risk-averse lawyers have been willing 
to put on the air. Thanks to the Internet and its different copyright rules for 
intermediaries, for the first time, we are all getting the opportunity to see 
the full scope of creativity in video. And, as a result of the different level of 
access for creators, the resulting creativity online often looks different from 
the material shown on prime-time TV or in theaters. 

Traditional Media Intermediaries: 
Doormen Minding the Velvet Rope 

Why are traditional media distributors, whether TV networks or theatrical 
and DVD distributors, so obsessed with "clearing" all the rights to every little 
thing before they will broadcast or distribute it? 

The reason so many network lawyers seem so flint-hearted about copy- 
right clearances arises directly from the copyright law rules they live under. 
Copyright law gives to copyright owners a number of exclusive rights, 
including the right to make reproductions, public performances, public dis- 
plays, distributions, and derivative works. 2 Copyright law is what lawyers 

Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 171 

call a "strict liability" offense — people can be held liable even if they did not 
intend or know that they were infringing a copyright. So, for example, if 
the song that plays over the end credits of a film turns out not to have been 
cleared with the copyright owner, every theater that shows the film can be 
liable for copyright infringement (for publicly performing the song as part 
of the film), even if the theaters' owners had no idea that the song was not 
properly cleared. This strongly influences how an intermediary views copy- 
right: if any copyright was infringed in a production, the intermediaries can 
be held legally responsible, even if they had no reason to suspect and even if 
they were (erroneously) assured that all the rights were cleared. 

The penalties for copyright infringement are also potentially severe. If 
copyright owners have registered their works, they are generally entitled to 
a "statutory damages" award of between $750 and $30,000 for each work 
infringed, even if the infringement actually caused no harm at all. 3 In the 
preceding example, perhaps the owner of the copyright in the song that 
played over the end credits would have licensed the song for $500. Or per- 
haps the use of the song actually helped sell more copies of the song. The 
copyright owner would nevertheless be entitled to statutory damages from 
every theater that showed the film. 

And it can get even worse. Unlike most other areas of commercial law, in 
copyright cases, copyright owners can often "pierce the corporate veil." That 
means that the copyright owner can not only sue the theater but can also 
go after the personal assets (e.g., houses and personal bank accounts) of the 
theater executives. Moreover, copyright lawsuits are expensive, irrespective 
of the outcome, and can result in legal fees reaching into the hundreds of 
thousands of dollars. 

One of the reasons for these draconian rules is to put intermediaries in 
the hot seat and thereby to help copyright owners stop copyright infringe- 
ment. But these same features in copyright law also have a chilling effect 
on intermediaries, leaving them unwilling to accept any risk at all, even for 
activities that do not infringe copyright. This leaves video creators facing 
a "clearance culture": intermediaries who insist on documented clearances 
for every scrap of copyrighted material that appears in any film or video 
that lands at their door and an insurance policy to stand behind any prom- 
ises made by a shallow-pocketed production company. After all, if any- 
thing goes wrong, the copyright owner will probably sue the intermediary, 
as the entity with the deeper pockets to pay any judgments and attorneys' 


Internet Intermediaries: Bouncers at the Bar 

Online intermediaries live by a very different set of copyright rules, by neces- 
sity. If the same sorts of rules described in the preceding section applied to 
the online intermediaries that provide digital storage and telecommunica- 
tions services for every bit of data on the Internet, there simply would be no 
Internet. 4 No company could hope to vet every e-mail message, website, file 
transfer, and instant message for copyright infringement. The same is true 
for online video-hosting sites. If every video on YouTube had to first be vet- 
ted by a lawyer and insured by an errors-and-omissions policy, the videos on 
YouTube would be measured in the thousands, not the tens of millions. 

Fortunately, as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 
1998, Congress enacted a copyright "safe harbor" for many kinds of online 
intermediaries. 5 Thanks to these safe-harbor provisions, online video-host- 
ing providers (like YouTube) can store and transmit video on behalf of their 
users without suffering the kind of "strict liability" that offline video dis- 
tributors face. In order to qualify for the safe harbor, however, these online 
intermediaries have to establish a "notice-and-takedown" system — in other 
words, they have to establish a procedure whereby a copyright owner can 
notify them when an infringing video appears on the site. 6 After being noti- 
fied, the online service provider must promptly disable access to the video. 

The same law also provides that users whose videos have been removed 
may file a "counter-notice" if they believe that the "takedown" notice was 
incorrectly sent. 7 Once a counter-notice is sent, the copyright owner has 
approximately two weeks to sue, or else the video can be restored by the 
intermediary without fear of further copyright liability. Online service pro- 
viders like YouTube also must establish a policy of terminating the accounts 
of "repeat infringers." For example, if a YouTube user receives multiple "take- 
down" notices for videos posted in her account, her account may be sus- 
pended or canceled. 8 

These two mechanisms — the "notice-and-takedown" system and "repeat 
infringer" policies — give copyright owners considerable power to police 
their content online. Many entertainment companies know how to use this 
power — Viacom, for example, once sent more than one hundred thousand 
takedown notices to YouTube on a single day 9 Sometimes the power to 
remove content has been abused as a mechanism for censorship. 10 

But this "safe harbor" approach is nevertheless very different from the 
one that faces traditional offline video distributors. Thanks to the "safe har- 

Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 173 

bors," intermediaries no longer have to rely on lawyers to be the "doormen," 
demanding clearances and insurance before accepting a video for distribu- 
tion. Instead, where online intermediaries like YouTube are concerned, they 
can let their lawyers act as "bouncers" — let users post the videos first and 
only remove those that attract complaints under the "notice-and-takedown" 
system. So long as they abide by the requirements of the DMCA's safe har- 
bors, online intermediaries will be sheltered from monetary liability arising 
from the infringing videos uploaded by users. 

New Opportunities to Find an Audience 

Where video creators are concerned, the different copyright rules for online 
intermediaries have opened up an incredible new set of opportunities to find 
an audience. Consider many of the new forms of "mashup" creativity that 
have flowered online. The "Vote Different" video, for example, recut and 
repurposed Apple's iconic "1984" television commercial as a campaign com- 
mercial critical of then-senator Hilary Clinton. 11 The video has been viewed 
more than six million times on YouTube. Given the unlikelihood that clear- 
ance could have been obtained from Apple for this use of its commercial, it is 
unlikely that any television station would have accepted the ad for broadcast, 
even if the creator could have found the money to buy air time. Similarly, 
entire genres of "remix" creativity have flourished on YouTube, genres that 
would have been barred from DVD, TV, and theatrical release due to rights- 
clearance complexities. 

Another example is "The Hunt for Gollum," an entirely original fan-cre- 
ated "prequel" to Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings. 11 A 
two-year effort that involved more than 150 people, this forty-minute short 
film was done without obtaining clearances from either the Tolkien estate or 
New Line Cinema. As a result, it would have been almost impossible to dis- 
tribute the resulting short film through traditional offline channels. Never- 
theless, thanks to the very different set of copyright rules that apply to online 
intermediaries, the fan-creators of "The Hunt for Gollum" were able to find 
a home on the Internet for their film. In the end, the copyright owners chose 
not to complain about the film, creating an object lesson in the benefits of 
asking forgiveness after the fact, rather than permission beforehand. To 
date, the film has been viewed more than three million times. The film has 
even been accepted for screening at a number of film festivals, presumably 
because the lawyers were reassured by the lack of legal action by the copy- 
right owners of The Lord of the Rings. 


This is not to say that copyright can be ignored online. Just because an 
intermediary may be protected by the DMCA's "safe harbors" does not mean 
that the creator of a video is immune from copyright-infringement liability 
It just means that the creator is not putting the intermediary in the position 
of having to put its own assets on the line for every video it hosts. In other 
words, if video creators are willing to stand behind their videos, they can 
now find an audience without first having to satisfy a scrum of lawyers and 
insurance adjusters. But as the creators, they are still answerable for the use 
any copyrighted material that appears in their productions. 

There are two principal ways to deal with uncleared copyrighted materi- 
als that might appear in a video production. The first is to consider whether 
the use might be excused under an exception or limitation to copyright. 
Although copyright law contains a number of exceptions and limitations, the 
one that is most often relevant when recognizable copyrighted materials are 
at issue is "fair use." The fair-use doctrine allows a court to evaluate an other- 
wise unauthorized use against four nonexclusive factors: 

1. The nature and character of the use (transformative uses and noncommer- 
cial uses are favored) 

2. The nature and character of the work used (news reports and other factual 
works are given less protection than are more creative works) 

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used 

4. The effect of the use on the market for the work used 

Although there is an increasing number of free resources available online to 
help explain how fair use applies to different video creators, it remains a com- 
plicated subject, and you should consult a qualified copyright lawyer for advice 
before jumping to conclusions about whether your use might be a fair use. 13 

A second way to deal with uncleared materials is to find out who the copy- 
right owner in question might be and how that copyright owner has dealt 
with productions similar to yours in the past. Some copyright owners will 
have no objection to certain kinds of uses of their content, particularly non- 
commercial uses. For example, several major video-game companies have 
published "licenses" or guidelines for "machinima" — the emerging genre 
of films created inside video games. 14 Similarly, Warner Brothers and J. K. 
Rowling have been supportive of many kinds of noncommercial fan-created 
works building on the Harry Potter franchise. 15 And, as described earlier, 
"The Hunt for Gollum" has not been targeted for legal action by New Line 
Cinema or the Tolkien estate. Often fan communities will have an under- 

Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 175 

standing of what kinds of activities a copyright owner will find "unobjection- 
able," even if they will not go so far as granting a written clearance. 

The "notice-and-takedown" procedure also provides copyright owners a 
mechanism to express their objection to a video without resorting imme- 
diately to litigation in court. This can give creators a bit of a buffer in which 
to experiment. A copyright owner does not have to send a takedown notice 
before suing in court, but often a takedown notice sent to an online inter- 
mediary is a faster, cheaper way for copyright owners to achieve their goals. 
This is particularly true when the putative infringer has shallow pockets and 
is unlikely to be able to cough up an amount of money that would make a 
court fight economically sensible. As a result, posting a video and waiting to 
see whether it attracts a takedown notice from the copyright owner can be an 
inexpensive way to test a copyright owner s preferences. 


The nice thing about the "clearance culture" that dominates offline media is its 
simplicity: if a video creator lacks clearances for everything, he or she is not going 
to get distribution for the video. The new opportunities in online distribution are 
exciting but more complicated, requiring that a video creator learn the basics of 
copyright law, fair use, and enforcement habits of particular copyright owners. 
Careful creators will want to consult with a qualified lawyer, as well as carefully 
researching whether the copyright owners in question are likely to object and, if 
so, how strenuously. While all of this can be time-consuming, it can also let video 
creators reach global audiences in ways that were never before possible. 


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. See Patricia Aufderheide & Peter Jaszi, Untold Stories: Creative Consequences of the 
Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers (Center for Social Media 2004), 
available at 
Report.pdf (accessed July 17, 2010) 

2. The U.S. Copyright Act is contained in Title 17 of the U.S. Code, available at http:// (accessed July 17, 2010). The exclusive rights are set forth in 17 
U.S.C. § 106. 

3. See 17 U.S.C. § 504(c). 

4. See generally Center for Democracy and Technology, Intermediary Liability: Protect- 
ing Internet Platforms for Expression and Innovation (2010), available at 
(accessed July 17, 2010). 


5. See 17 U.S.C. § 512. 

6. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3); see generally Citizen Media Law Project, Copyright Claims 
Based on User Content (last modified Oct. 29, 2009), available at http://www.citmedialaw. 
org/legal-guide/copyright-claims-based-user-content (accessed July 17, 2010). 

7. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(g); see generally Citizen Media Law Project, Responding to a 
DMCA Takedown Notice Targeting Your Content (last modified May 8, 2008), available at 
your-content (accessed July 17, 2010). 

8. See YouTube, What Will Happen If You Upload Infringing Content (last modi- 
fied Oct. 9, 2010), available at 
py?hl=en&answer=i43456 (accessed July 17, 2010). 

9. See Candace Lombardi, Viacom to YouTube: Take Down Pirated Clips, CNET News, 
Feb. 2, 2007, available at 
clips/2ioo-io26_3-6i5577i.html (accessed July 17, 2010). 

10. See Wendy Seltzer, Free Speech Unmoored in Copyright's Safe Harbor: Chilling Effects 
of the DMCA on the First Amendment, 24 Harv. J.L. & Tech. 171 (2010), available at http:// 
papers. (accessed July 17, 2010). 

11. Available at (accessed July 17, 

12. Available at (accessed July 17, 2010). 

13. The American University's Center for Social Media maintains an excellent col- 
lection of documents that describe "best practices" for fair use for a variety of different 
genres of video creators. See 
(accessed July 17, 2010). 

14. See, e.g., Microsoft, Game Content Usage Rules, available at 
en-US/community/developer/rules. htm (accessed July 17, 2010); World of Warcraft, Letter 
to the Machinimators of the World, available at (accessed July 1, 

15. See Comments of Jeremy Williams, Warner Brothers Senior Vice President, in the 
Intellectual Property Colloquium, Derivative Work, available at 
mobile/2009/09/derivative-work/ (accessed July 17, 2010). 

Your Intermediary Is Your Destiny 177 


On the Fungibility and 
Necessity of Cultural Freedom 


For these Utopians, free culture is a glimpse of ideal world 
where knowledge can be used, studied, modified, built upon, 
distributed, and shared without restriction. 

— Benjamin Mako Hill, "Wikimedia and 
the Free Culture Movement," 2007 1 

I've been involved in the copyright-reform and free-culture space 
for almost a decade. I've protested record companies, organized free-culture 
art shows, and released thousands of my own photos under various Creative 
Commons licenses. Throughout my time as a free-culture creator and activ- 
ist, I was consistently confronted with a difficult question to answer: how 
free, exactly, should I make my work? Moreover, how free should I encour- 
age others to make their work? Many other people have been thinking 
hard about this question, and while some have offered definitions, I remain 
unconvinced that there is one prescriptive solution for the future of cultural 
production, online or off. I'm most interested in attempting to answer these 
questions in light of what could be considered party lines in the free-culture 
space. On one side there are the free-software advocates whose deep dedica- 
tion to the principles established by Richard Stallman and the Free Software 
Foundation in the late 1980s continues to nurture an unprecedented ecosys- 
tem of free and open-source software. On the other side is a newer genera- 
tion of creators who casually share and remix their creations using Creative 
Commons licenses. This essay is not meant to pit these two perspectives 
against each other (in fact, relations between the two organizations are and 
have always been excellent) but, rather, to offer an explanation of why they 
appear to be so oppositional. I hope to demonstrate that there's a core con- 
fusion occurring when we attempt to reconcile answers to these questions. 
Ultimately I believe this confusion can be mitigated if we acknowledge the 
fundamental differences between cultural and utilitarian works. 


To begin with, let's take a look at an example of where these two per- 
spectives collided. On December 8, 2007, Michael David Crawford sent an 
e-mail to the Creative Commons Community list asking for advice on how 
to decide on a license for his "magnum opus." 2 Crawford was deliberating 
between the Attribution-NoDerivatives license and the Attribution-Non- 
Commercial-NoDerivatives license. As public licenses go, the Creative Com- 
mons community considers these two choices as being the most restrictive. 
In the first instance, Crawford would have allowed only whole duplication of 
his work without modification; in the second, he would have allowed only 
whole duplication of his work so long as it was noncommercial. The only 
freedoms Crawford was interested in granting his audience would be those 
of sharing and, possibly, commercial use. 

The cc-community list that Crawford posted to is a large e-mail list with a 
membership consisting of dozens of creators, lawyers, authors, programmers, 
and cultural advocates who are interested in discussing Creative Commons 
and their licenses. Creators interested in releasing their work under CC often 
pose questions to the list in order to facilitate their decision-making process. 

Crawford had titled his self-designated "magnum opus" "Living with 
Schizoaffective Disorder." His e-mail linked to the work inside a subdirectory 
named "Madness/" on his personal web server, where it was rendered with 
simple HTML formatting. 3 Crawford's intention was eventually to release the 
work as a fifty-page PDF. In Crawford's initial e-mail to the Creative Com- 
mons list, he emphasized that since "the piece is a very personal story, and 
expresses some very deeply-held personal opinions," he was not interested in 
allowing others to remix it. 

Crawford went on to summarize his illness and his motivations for writ- 
ing "Living": "I have a lot of reason to believe that writing Living . . . was the 
best thing I have done in my entire life, and may well in the end be the best 
thing I will have ever done." 4 

He was interested in having others benefit and share his work and was 
looking toward Creative Commons as the legal structure that would enable 
him to do so. Crawford clearly wanted his work to be shared so that it could 
benefit others like him. But he was wary of allowing the work to be commer- 
cially exploited as well. He stated that he feared traditional book publishers 
might release his work as "a best-seller" and not give him "a cut of the prof- 
its." 5 Crawford concluded his message by noting that he regularly receives 
many encouraging missives from others with similar diagnoses and believes 
there to be a strong demand for a work exploring his disease from a personal 

On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom 179 

Our culture depends on original work being shared, reused, and remixed. 
Without public licensing schemes that standardize these terms and mores, 
copyright law necessarily silos every new creative work. By merely fixing a 
minimally original work in a medium (for example, typing a manuscript and 
saving it) authors are automatically availed of the full strength of "All Rights 
Reserved" copyright until seventy years after their death. Moreover, anyone 
who infringes on the copyright of another can be held liable for fines up to 
$150,000 per infringement. 6 

There are countless stories of naive Internet remixers and sharers acci- 
dentally stumbling into a thicket of copyright litigation. And while the Digi- 
tal Millennium Copyright Act's Section 512 has mitigated this risk on behalf 
of service providers like YouTube, individual creators still face an uncer- 
tain landscape when noncommercially sharing and remixing others' work 
online. 7 But this essay is not about those stories or those lawsuits. This essay 
is about the efforts aimed at maneuvering new modes of cultural production 
out of those waters. Creative Commons licenses represent one of the most 
substantial efforts in that respect. 

At the end of Crawford's message he solicits arguments for or against 
his potential license choices. Crawford's criteria for licensing the work may 
seem intuitive and uncontroversial to the lay reader, but only seven hours 
after posting, a response from a list member named Drew Roberts encour- 
aged him, unsuccessfully, to abandon consideration of both the NoDeriva- 
tives stipulation and the Noncommercial stipulation. 8 Roberts encouraged 
Crawford to pick either one of the two most "liberal" CC licenses — either 
Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike. If Crawford were to have chosen the 
CC Attribution (abbreviated as CC BY), then his work would be closest to 
the uncontrollable public domain, and the only requirement for reusing it, 
or portions of it, would be to credit Crawford as the original author and note 
that the original work was under a Creative Commons license. Doing this 
would explicitly invite modified and derivative versions of Crawford's work. 

Similarly, if Crawford chose Roberts's other suggestion, the Creative 
Commons copyleft license, Attribution-ShareAlike (abbreviated CC BY-SA), 
then others could use "Living" so long as they redistributed modified ver- 
sions of the work under the same license. Some people identify the act of 
securing the freedom of downstream copies or derivatives under the same 
terms as the original as "copyleft" or "viral licensing." Roberts went on to 
detail ways in which Crawford could leverage his copyleft in order to prevent 
his work from being commercially exploited in the ways he feared. After one 
response from another list member commending Crawford on his courage 


to release his deeply personal work in order to help others, but not weighing 
in on the licensing question, activity on the thread petered out. To this date, 
Crawford has made no indication as to how he intends on licensing "Living," 
and the page where the essay resides still indicates that the work is under an 
"All Rights Reserved" copyright. 

The exchange between Drew Roberts and Michael Crawford on the cc- 
community list represented an ongoing rift in the Creative Commons and 
free-culture community between those who believe in "free licenses" to 
the exclusion of "nonfree licenses" (those including Noncommercial and 
NoDerivatives terms) and those who believe that these options allow for 
greater flexibility in cultural productions. 

This conflict represents a larger schism dogging user-generated content: 
what are the ethical and just ways that users should share work? Is there a 
"right" way to release or license a work? Are non-commercially-licensed 
works necessarily unethical? 

A very vocal minority of those using Creative Commons licenses and 
engaged in the community believe that Creative Commons should offer only 
the Attribution and Attribution-ShareAlike options for its licenses. All cul- 
ture, they believe, should be able to be peer produced and should be licensed, 
released, and distributed in ways that facilitate derivatives and sharing. For 
the purpose of this essay, I'll call this the fundamentalist perspective of user- 
generated utopianism. My interest is in exploring the viability of user-gen- 
erated utopianism and answering the question of whether all culture should 
be available to be remixed and reused unconditionally. Should we license 
it as such? Specifically, what are the ethical and practical considerations 
we should take into account when trying to convince creators like Michael 
Crawford to allow their work to be peer produced? 

To understand user-generated utopianism, it is first important to under- 
stand that Creative Commons is a single legal project created to facilitate 
sharing of cultural artifacts, and it is not the first. Richard Stallman's Free 
Software Foundation created the General Public License (GPL) in 1989 in 
order to codify Stallman's belief that there should be four basic freedoms of 
software. 9 Linus Torvalds chose the Free Software Foundation's GPL for his 
fledgling software kernel, called Linux, in order to encourage others to help 
him work on it. 10 If Torvalds had not licensed his work under the GPL, or any 
other free license, he would have risked the potential of a future copyright 
lawsuit by anyone developing the code with him. Without the GPL, a rogue 
developer could have claimed exclusive rights over his or her additions to 
the kernel, and the integrity of the project would have been jeopardized. The 

On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom 181 

GPL also enabled Torvalds to make an implicit guarantee to his codevelop- 
ers because it legally prevented him from co-opting their work and restrict- 
ing the kernel's distribution. The GPL ensures that Torvalds's kernel remains 
open and available for anyone to build on its code and release his or her own 
versions of it, so long as his or her code is distributed alongside as well. 

The GPL was a precondition for the success of the Linux ecology in that it 
provided a legal and social tool that could enforce a community of practice 
within a specific field of developers and hobbyists. First launched in 2002, 
the Creative Commons license suite attempted to provide a similar set of 
legal tools and licenses for cultural producers. Whereas the GPL shouldn't be 
used for nonsoftware media, the CC licenses were not intended for software 

For the most part, those who call for a definition of free culture, or for 
Creative Commons to rescind its Noncommercial and NoDerivatives 
licenses, are current or past members of the free-software community. The 
majority are software programmers who acutely understand the benefits of 
the GPL for peer-produced free software and who are keen to port the model 
to other cultural productions. The only licenses that persevered over the 
years were those that preserved the freedoms established by the FSF, with the 
GPL being the most notable and popular example, but noncopyleft licenses 
like Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) are also included. These free-soft- 
ware advocates criticize Creative Commons for not articulating a specific 
social movement like Stallman did for free software (i.e., the free-software 
definition) and worry that CC will jeopardize the future of free culture by 
offering licenses that enable creators to release work gratis but not freely. So 
is a Utopia like they envision possible? What would happen if all work nec- 
essarily allowed peer production like all free software does? To answer this 
question, it is useful to consider the concept of a fungible object. 

A fungible object has individual units that are capable of mutual substi- 
tution. A hammer is an example of a physical object that is explicitly fun- 
gible. If one hammer is more or less the same as another hammer, the two are 
substitutable and therefore fungible (especially if the same company manu- 
factures both hammers). Functional software applications are also largely 
fungible; this is especially true of lower-level applications such as drivers or 
operating-system tools such as compilers. The general fungibility of software 
reflects how software objects are largely defined by their utility. The first set 
of applications Richard Stallman wrote for the GNU project were, by defini- 
tion, fungible because they replaced the proprietary UNIX versions of the C 
compilers and shell utilities that MIT's media lab had become dependent on. 


Consequently, we can exchange software applications for one another (e.g., 
one application that is fungible for another), so long as their core function- 
ality remains the same. Linux's growth can be attributed to its fungibility, 
because the kernels of operating systems are fungible. By 2006, dozens of 
different kernels (from Microsoft Windows to Apple OS X to Ubuntu GNU/ 
Linux) had been developed for various hardware configurations, but all con- 
tinue to serve essentially the same purpose. 

If hammers, operating systems, and other tools are prime examples of 
fungible objects, art provides us with some interesting examples of nonfun- 
gible objects. A work of art's ostensible purpose is to cover a bare wall, and 
as such, an anonymous store-bought painting or photograph is effectively 
exchangeable for another. This easy replace ability disappears when you con- 
sider famous works of art: the Louvre would certainly not accept any kind of 
replacement for the "Mona Lisa," despite the availability of any other works 
that might cover the wall in a similar way. We aren't interested in using these 
types of objects for any particular use. We want to enjoy them. We want 
to admire them for their perfection, their history, or their uniqueness but 
not for their utility. A work of art does not have to be useful in order to be 

It is essential, then, that we're not interested in using an artwork in the 
utilitarian sense in order to properly appreciate it. We don't hang pictures 
to obscure blemishes on the wall; we hang them to appreciate them for their 
own sake. Along with famous works of art, we should also understand that 
personal works are nonfungible. Michael Crawford's "Living with Schizoaf- 
fective Disorder" is a perfect example of a nonfungible work because, while 
it may be a useful guide for those who have this disorder, it is particular to 
Crawford and his views, so much so that he believes that it cannot be substi- 
tuted or modified. 

It stands to reason that Crawford chose to prohibit derivatives of his work 
because he believed it was a nonfungible work. Crawford did not want oth- 
ers to modify the work to a point where a derivative could be substituted for 
the original. The effort and meaning Crawford had poured into his writing 
would need to remain coupled to his identity as its author, because the work 
was about him, much like all artistic work is to some extent about its creator. 
"Living" was meant to stand on its own as a finished product representing 
its author and his life, so it would be wrong to think of it as being capable 
of being revisable by others. This starkly contrasts with Torvalds's inten- 
tions when he released his work, the Linux kernel, under the GPL. Whatever 
future versions might be derived from his initial version, he was only too 

On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom 183 

happy to see the work modified and improved. Similarly, Torvalds's work, 
while superficially tied to his identity (the name "Linux" derives from his 
given name), wasn't so much about Torvalds as it was about a specific tool 
that needed to exist. 

Wikipedia provides another example, as the peer-produced encyclope- 
dia is, despite its depth and unique character, composed of fungible articles. 
There are many other encyclopedias that not only predate its existence but 
also continue to compete with it. Peer production on Wikipedia is made pos- 
sible not only by its particularly liberal copyright license (which happens to 
be the Creative Commons Attribution -Share Alike license) but also by the 
nature of its content. For example, an article on bitumen can be substituted 
by any other article on bitumen, so long as it properly describes the subject 
in an encyclopedic way. Direct knowledge is another fungible entity: a fact is 
a fact is a fact, and it is void of any nonfungible uniqueness. Both copyright 
and, to some extent, patent law acknowledge this reality, as they both have 
substantial precedent for preventing ownership of facts, obvious ideas, short 
phrases, or even databases. 

User-generated utopianism challenges us to believe that all cultural 
objects are effectively fungible. This conclusion feels problematic mainly 
because it requires us to tell creators like Michael Crawford that they must 
release their work freely for others to build on and that they are essentially 
wrong and misguided in their intentions to protect their work in the ways 
they choose. Dictating to authors and creators what they can and can't do 
with their work is a remarkably unpopular challenge and is one reason why 
a licensing regime like Creative Commons has made its mission about the 
creator's choice, not adhesion to an ideological purity. 

User-generated Utopians will defend their position by pointing out that 
authors can produce "authorized" versions of their work, thereby attenuating 
the risk of others' misinterpreting the meaning and purpose of their work. 
The strategy that free-software advocates argue for is to distribute "autho- 
rized" versions of work so that they are omnipresent and free. The argument 
is that this authorized version defeats any commercial advantage of potential 
freeriders who might download the work and try to resell it. By making free- 
software projects ubiquitous and freely distributable, software developers 
have neutralized the potential commercial market for exploitation. In other 
words, it's impossible to pirate a work if it's already available on GitHub for 
download. But this approach has less appeal for cultural producers. If Pfizer 
were to use a freely licensed version of Crawford's personal essay in an adver- 
tising pamphlet for antidepressants, Crawford would probably have felt that 


the integrity of his work had been compromised, despite having offered the 
work for free and authorizing his own version of it. For some creators, like 
Crawford, neutralizing potential commercial competition is not enough of 
an incentive to release their work freely. They need to know that the integrity 
of their work will be preserved in some capacity in future generations. It's 
unclear whether free-software principles applied to cultural works have any- 
thing to offer in this regard. 

So there's a strong moral case to be made that fungible works should 
always be free to be built on and remixed. They can be swapped out for bet- 
ter, more efficient versions. They can be modified, they can break, they can be 
fixed, and most importantly, they can be collaborated on. But can the same 
be said for artistic works? Must creators necessarily confront and accept all 
of these potentialities when releasing their work? We loosely use the term 
"successful" when speaking about creative works, but we don't mean it in the 
same way that a new kernel module is successful at fixing a longstanding 
hardware incompatibility. Kernel modules either work or they don't, but it is 
hard to make this argument for art, especially in light of a multipolar culture 
which is constantly reevaluating and interpreting itself. 

The hard-line argument for the freedom of fungible works (i.e., tools) 
makes a lot of sense in this light, but it makes less sense when applied to 
cultural works. To argue that all cultural works are, or should be, fungible, 
we risk denigrating and confusing a work with the tools required to create 
it. This argument shouldn't be confused as one against remixing or pastiche. 
I hold the remix in the highest possible cultural esteem, and I truly believe 
that all culture is a conversation requiring generations of experimentation 
and revolution. And it's clear that copyright law needs to be reformed and 
that its terms must be reduced. Despite this, I remain unconvinced that all 
culture must necessarily be regarded as replaceable and modifiable, like all of 
our tools effectively are. 

To put it another way, I do not see it as a valuable or interesting strategy to 
disintegrate the notion of authorship completely when encouraging creators 
to share their works. Copyright law may have created perverse incentives 
(for example, encouraging creators to invest in lawyers and lawsuits rather 
than in future creation) and may remain unenforceable in light of techno- 
logical innovation, but it was created with the understanding that recogniz- 
ing authors as unique creators helped them conceive and produce new work. 

In the end, I'm most worried that if we succeed in convincing creators 
that their works are no different from their tools, we might end up disin- 
centivizing them to create in the first place. So while it is unclear whether 

On the Fungibility and Necessity of Cultural Freedom 185 

copyright law will ever be reformed in a meaningful manner, I hope I've pre- 
sented some compelling reasons that demonstrate that there are still plenty 
of opportunities for authors and publishers to continue experimenting with 
the rights they offer to the public. 


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. Benjamin Mako Hill, "Wikipedia and the Free Culture Movement," Why Give Blog 
(last modified November 8, 2008), Wikimedia Foundation, 
ture (accessed July 20, 2010). 

2. Michael D. Crawford, "[cc-community] Help me decide on a license," message to 
the Creative Commons Community list, December 8, 2007, 
mail/cc-community/2007-December/oo2778.html (accessed July 20, 2010). 

3. Michael D. Crawford, "Living with Schizoaffective Disorder," http://wwwgeomet- (accessed June 29, 2011). 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. United States Copyright Office, "Highlights of Copyright Amendments in URAA," 
2010, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

7. 17 U.S.C. §§ 512, 1201-1205. 

8. Drew Roberts, "Re: [cc-community] Help me decide on a license," message to the 
Creative Commons Community list, December 8, 2007, 
cc-community/2007-December/oo278i.html (accessed July 20, 2010). 

9. The four essential freedoms according to the Free Software Foundation are (1) "the 
freedom to run the program, for any purpose," (2) "the freedom to study how the pro- 
gram works, and change it to make it do what you wish," (3) "the freedom to redistribute 
copies so you can help your neighbor," and (4) "the freedom to distribute copies of your 
modified versions to others." Free Software Foundation, "The Free Software Definition," 
1996, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

10. Linus Torvalds, "Free minix-like kernel sources for 386-AT," message to the comp. 
os.minix Usenet group, October 5, 1991, 
msg/2i94d253268boaib (accessed July 20, 2010). 



Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 

Three Creative Commons Case Studies 


Open-source software and the free-culture movement have created 
vibrant and thriving sharing-based online communities. These communi- 
ties and individuals have created an enormous quantity of open-source and 
free-culture projects. Many examples of these are well-known and much her- 
alded: Wikipedia, Linux, WordPress, and the like. These success stories pri- 
marily revolve around code- and/or text-focused projects and are much less 
common among other work whose medium is not code or text. While one 
could disagree from a semiotic or a materialist perspective, code and text are 
effectively immaterial in relationship to other forms of physical creation. A 
copy of the original is merely a keystroke's effort, and the basic tools to create 
or modify the original are so commonplace as to be universal: a keyboard 
and a mouse. Obviously one also needs fluency in the human or computer 
language of the project, but one does not need access to expensive or special- 
ized materials or tools; nor does one need the physical skills of a craftsperson 
in the medium. 

Unlike code- or text-based practices, art, design, and other creations that 
are manifest in nondigital forms require production outside of the keyboard- 
mouse-language toolset. While there may be a code- or text-based set of 
instructions, the final form of the project usually must be transformed into a 
physical object, either through a machine like a printer or laser cutter, a physi- 
cal technology like a circuit board or paint, or an offline social process like 
agreements and collaborations with people or business entities that have the 
tools or knowledge to realize a project. It seems that this additional step often 
makes it more difficult to realize a physical project. Despite this difficulty, or 
maybe because of this challenge, there are examples of artists, designers, and 
engineers working in this model, myself included. After producing three years 
of art/design work with open licenses, I want to look back and consider the 
results. 1 The central question I seek to answer is if and how an art or design 

I 187 

idea/project/product is helped, hindered, or not affected at all by its open 
licensing model. I have chosen three key examples from my creative practice 
and explore their successes and failures as a way of assessing this question. 

A Genealogy 

"Open source" is a term used to refer to computer software for which the 
source code can be viewed, modified, and used by anyone. As the story goes, 
once upon a time all software was open source. In 1980, MIT researcher 
Richard Stallman was using one of the first laser printers. It took so long to 
print documents that he decided he would modify the printer driver so that 
it sent a notice to the user when the print job was finished. Unlike previ- 
ous printer drivers, this software only came in its compiled version. Stall- 
man asked Xerox for the source code. Xerox would not let him have the 
source code. Stallman got upset and wrote a manifesto, and the Free Software 
movement began. 2 Later, Eric Raymond, a fellow computer programmer, 
published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which popularized the term "open 
source." 3 The two terms are frequently referred to by the acronym I use in 
this essay: FLOSS, which stands for "free/libre/open-source software." 4 

More recently this concept has been extended from code to other forms 
of cultural production via Creative Commons licenses and what has become 
known as the free-culture movement. 5 The Creative Commons licenses pro- 
vide a legal tool for applying FLOSS licensing to media other than computer 
code: text, image, sound, video, design, and so on. Many websites that are 
focused on fostering creative communities, like Flickr or Vimeo, incorpo- 
rate this license into their content- upload process. Creative Commons esti- 
mates that there are 135 million Creative Commons-licensed works on Flickr 
alone. 6 While this has been a very successful initiative, most of these millions 
of works are digital. They are infinitely copyable, quickly transferable, and 
easily distributable. What I seek to answer is what happens when this license 
is applied to works that are not exclusively digital. What happens when the 
license is applied to cultural objects whose materiality prevents them from 
being effortlessly copyable. 

Inside this larger free-culture community, there are groups of engineers, 
artists, and designers using open licenses for physical objects which are not 
as easily reproduced. 7 The genealogy of the move to license physical works 
with Creative Commons licenses that I trace here comes out of Limor Fried's 
work as an R&D fellow at the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology's 
OpenLab. Located in New York City, Eyebeam is like a think tank, where 


artists, engineers, designers, and programmers work together on projects 
dedicated to public-domain research and development. In a sense, it is not so 
much a think tank as a make tank. I was a resident, fellow, and senior fellow 
at Eyebeam from 2006 to 2010, and my time at Eyebeam has strongly influ- 
enced my work and, thus, this essay. 

One of the requirements for working in the Eyebeam OpenLab is that all 
work is published with an open license; this stipulation is written into the 
contract that all R&D fellows sign. 8 This is easy to comply with as a program- 
mer, but Fried primarily worked in what is known as physical computing, 
which is the intersection between computer and electrical engineering, and 
experimental art and design. Fried and Jonah Peretti, the director of R&D at 
the time, spent some time trying to figure out the right way to comply with 
the contract. In the end, the decision was made to publish a full instruction 
set and to make available DIY kits with the circuit board and all components. 

At Eyebeam, one of the central goals is to be copied. At my orientation 
in 2006, then senior fellows James Powderly and Evan Roth of the Graffiti 
Research Lab gave a presentation of their work, tracing their LED Throw- 
ies project from its original form, a simple LED with a magnet and a bat- 
tery, through the modifications made by hackers and aficionados across the 
world (one had a timed blinker, another used a photosensor to turn on only 
at night to conserve battery, someone offered LED Throwies for sale). 9 They 
noted that the form of distribution that generated the most views of the proj- 
ect was not their blog or their video on YouTube but their instruction set at, a site that allows creators to give instructions on how to 
make things. The point of their presentation was that the life of a project as a 
social phenomenon is its most important form and is often the primary form 
to be evaluated for success. The sharing of the project creates participation. 
And participation is at the edge of the beginnings of community 10 It is not 
quite community, but it is one of the preconditions for community. 

One of the most important points about this example, and a point that 
Powderly and Roth emphasized, is that these were ideas they would not 
have come up with by themselves, or if they had come up with the idea, they 
would not have had the time to execute it. They had one idea, which they 
shared with the world. People thought the original idea was interesting, but 
these people had their own ideas to contribute. The end result is something 
that is much greater than the original idea and something that could not 
have been created without the contribution of others. 

That is the optimistic side of the Eyebeam model, a model influenced 
by Peretti and R&D technical director Michael Frumin. The flip side is that 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 189 

success is also measured in pure numbers: YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr 
views, incoming links ritualistically tracked via analytics software, Diggs, 
blog posts, and overall hits. This became known as "The Famo." 11 Powderly, 
Roth, and Jamie Wilkinson coined the phrase, and by the time I arrived at 
Eyebeam, there were plans to create a complete Famo-meter, which would 
pull all the statistics from every possible source of views, hits, referrals, and 
rankings and crown a king of Famo. They even created and taught a class at 
Parsons (The New School for Design) in which the final grade was entirely 
determined by Famo. 12 

Famo is relevant here because in order to be copied, a project has to be 
viewed many, many times. As codified in the 1% rule (or the 90-9-1 princi- 
ple), a very small number of people are committed enough to take up a proj- 
ect and modify it. 13 If you have lots of eyes on a project, it is much more likely 
that someone will also put his or her hands on it. In the process of being 
copied, a change is made. No copy is a direct copy: every copy is a mutation 
in some form. 14 When the ultimate goal is to change culture, the intermedi- 
ary goal is to get copied. 

One Example 

Limor Fried was one of the first people to laser-etch the top of a laptop and 
publicly share the results. 15 She and her partner and collaborator Phil Torrone 
figured out the process for etching laptops (specifically Apple's Powerbooks), 
and then she did something really crucial: she published the instructions on 
her website with an open license. As a result, she created an industry. There 
is now a growing number of commercial engravers who focus on using the 
laser cutter as an artistic tool to engrave laptops, cell phones, Moleskine 
notebooks, leather accessories, fingernails, and so on. For example, etchstar 
was built off Fried and Torrone's published materials; 16 the business was pur- 
chased for an undisclosed sum by the Microsoft-funded Wallop and is now 
known as Coveroo. 17 

When I was in Portland, Oregon, in 2008, 1 was introduced to Joe Man- 
sfield, who runs an engraving business called Engrave Your Tech. I met him 
right as he was scaling up from individual projects to larger runs and big 
architectural projects. He had just broken the news to the rest of the Mole- 
skine-notebook fan community that despite initial disavowals, the Chinese 
manufacturer of the notebooks includes PVC in the covers, and they there- 
fore could not be lasercut. 18 It was clear when I met Mansfield that he was 
pretty well established in the scene. When I told him I was working out of 


Eyebeam, he looked at me blankly. I said, "You know, Eyebeam, where Limor 
Fried, a.k.a. Lady Ada, came up with the idea to use the laser cutter to do 
what you make a living doing?" And he said that the name seemed familiar 
somehow. You could argue that this is a failure, because people using this 
technology do not know who created this use, but I would argue that this is 
a success: the practice has become so pervasive that the origins are no longer 

Three Case Studies 

I'm going to talk about three projects and try to evaluate their success in the 
terms I have laid out thus far. Notably, these three projects are design proj- 
ects, not artworks; artworks would activate a different set of terms for suc- 
cess. I want to view all of these through the cycle of taking things and mak- 
ing them better I have laid out earlier in this chapter: participation breeds 
creative mutation, and creative mutation leads to better ideas through this 
collaborative process. 

Steve Lambert and I made a laser-cut lampshade for compact fluorescent 
bulbs (CFLs) that we called the Bright Idea Shade. We identified a problem 
and tried to come up with a solution for it. The Eyebeam space is two dark 
converted industrial buildings; most recently one side was an S&M club, 
and the other was a taxi garage. When Eyebeam first moved in, it was only 
one floor with twenty-five-foot ceilings. When it was built out for office and 
work space, the architects lit the space with bare silver-tipped incandescent 
light bulbs in raw porcelain fixtures. This was very much in vogue during the 
1995-2005 loft conversions in New York and San Francisco. It looks great in 
photographs and is an inexpensive solution, but it became a problem when 
we started to switch out our incandescent bulbs for CFLs. The bulbs were 
now really just bare bulbs. We needed a solution that made it possible to use 
CFLs without blinding ourselves. 

After some initial tests, we settled on a polygon solution, based on an 
Instructable, which was based on a Ready Made magazine project, which 
was based on the work of several designers from the '60s and '70s who each 
claim authorship of the original shape. 19 We consulted with an intellectual- 
property lawyer, who of course would not actually give us an answer as to 
any potential legal liability. But from our discussion with him and the trans- 
formative changes we made, we felt comfortable making the project public. 

To recap an earlier point: in order to get hands on a project, you have to 
get a lot of eyes on it first. We followed the internal Eyebeam model iden- 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 191 

tified by Peretti, Powderly and Roth and created an interrelated video and instruction set. 20 This video showed how exciting the proj- 
ect was and then explicitly stated that the whole purpose of the video was to 
give the idea away. The video clearly said that we wanted someone to take the 
idea and manufacture it and encouraged people to make money off the idea 
in the process. Through our Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC BY-SA) and 
our text in the video, we made it clear that we expected no money. We just 
wanted someone to make it. 

Steve Lambert and I are artists, designers, educators, and activists, but we 
are not business people. When we design things, we generally make proto- 
types and give them away. It's great for code, but maybe it's not so great for 
objects. Many, many people who saw this video wanted to buy a Bright Idea 
Shade. But it isn't for sale. It is free, but not as in beer. All the patterns and 
instructions are there, but you have to do it yourself. A manufacturer could 
do it and then sell the kits, but manufacturers aren't used to this idea of tak- 
ing someone's ideas, prototypes, and intellectual property for free. 

There are business questions and problems with fabricating and market- 
ing a free-culture product. Despite the fact that this project generated sev- 
eral million impressions in video, image, and blog views, there was only 
one failed lead, and that was from Urban Outfitters. When I tell people that 
Urban Outfitters was our only lead, they often laugh, as Urban Outfitters' 
business model is perceived to be focused on copying artists and designers 
and selling the infringing derivative work on the cheap. I had a direct con- 
nection to someone at the top of the company's design team. We offered the 
project to them, and they wouldn't copy us when we handed it to them. 

There is a lot of fear built into this process by the law and capitalism. Intel- 
lectual-property law creates fear that companies do have some unknowable 
liability because there are competing claims on the original shape, and we 
may not have done enough to modify the original shape to make the new 
work outside the original copyright. It does not help that no lawyer can give 
an authoritative answer on this question, so the large company with highly 
suable assets shies away. Companies also fear that if they invest to streamline 
the production process, brand the product, and create a market, their com- 
petitor will jump in and produce it cheaper, and their effort will be for naught. 
If this did happen, it would be great for the end user/consumer/citizen who 
wants to use CFLs, but it is not so great for the bottom line of the profit-driven 
company that invested the time and money into producing the first version. 

Part of me wonders about Urban Outfitters and the rest of the corporate 
design community that perpetually poaches art for their own uses. I jokingly 


think that they can't even do anything legitimately. They actually have to rip 
off someone's art. Playfully, I think that maybe if we said, "Don't touch this. 
This is our artwork!" maybe they would have copied it. But I know this is a 
simple and incomplete response. There are larger problems that this example 
highlights. I came to realize that there were better ways of getting this kind of 
project scaled up and distributed, and to accept that we pitched the product 
and gave it away for free, and it didn't work. The lesson learned is that giving 
things away is hard work. 

I took that lesson into my next major project, Digital Foundations: An 
Intro to Media Design, a textbook that integrates Bauhaus pedagogy and 
art-historical examples into a software-focused design primer. 21 I coau- 
thored this book with xtine burrough. Though this project is closer to the 
code and text projects I referred to in the introduction, it involves so much 
design work that it is not copyable and translatable like software or wikis. 
This book teaches the formal principles and exercises of the Bauhaus Basic 
Course through the Adobe Creative Suite. One prime example of this strat- 
egy is the chapter on color theory. We teach color theory using Josef Albers's 
classic Bauhaus exercises, which defined the modern artistic use of color, 
showing the interrelationship of color's components: hue, value, and satu- 
ration. We point out the way these principles have been directly integrated 
into the computer interface used to select colors. This is a classic exercise 
from the traditional Studio Foundations course that introduces students to 
the basic techniques and formal characteristics of art and design. The class- 
rooms where these studio classes used to take place have been converted into 
computer labs, and more and more curricula skip this traditional analog 
foundations course and instead go straight into a computer class. Students 
are not trained in the basic formal principles of visual composition: balance, 
harmony, symmetry, dynamism, negative space, and so on, nor do they learn 
color theory or basic drawing. 

We made a number of strategic decisions at the beginning that attempted 
to avoid the problems Lambert and I encountered with the Bright Idea 
Shade. Instead of waiting for someone to find the book and publish it, we 
went through the traditional book-proposal process. Once we had the pub- 
lisher excited about the book, we then started negotiating the Creative Com- 
mons license on the work. Before the work was even finished, we actively 
worked to give the work away by partnering with an organization called 
FLOSSmanuals to translate the book from the proprietary Adobe design 
applications like Photoshop and Illustrator to the FLOSS design applications 
like GIMP and Inkscape. 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 193 

We wrote the book on a wiki, which at the time was rather unusual for 
textbook writing. 22 It was so unusual that we were concerned about the pub- 
lisher's reaction. We decided to go ahead with it, as it was the most effective 
way for the two of us to collaborate, share the results with our peers who were 
providing feedback, and test the exercises from the book in our classes as 
we were writing them. When we did show the publisher, they were thrilled. 
They sent the site around to everyone in the company as an example of how 
they could start to adopt new peer production techniques for their books. 

We wrote it on a wiki with the Creative Commons license we were in the 
process of negotiating with the publisher. We only used public-domain or 
Creative Commons-licensed images. After nine months of negotiating, dur- 
ing which time we wrote the majority of the book, we finally signed a Cre- 
ative Commons-licensed contract with the publisher, AIGA Design Press/ 
New Riders, which is an imprint of Peachpit Press, which is a division of 
Pearson, one of the largest publishers in the world. Their legal department 
took nine months to churn its wheels and finally agreed to a Creative Com- 
mons license. We licensed this work with a Creative Commons license on 
principle and also because I was contractually obliged to do so by my con- 
tract with Eyebeam. Most importantly, we did it out of the hope that this 
time we would be able to succeed at giving the work away. 

As I mentioned, we were building plans with FLOSSmanuals to translate 
the book into FLOSS software. Run by Adam Hyde, FLOSSmanuals' mission 
is to create free manuals for free software. For Digital Foundations, FLOSS- 
manuals assembled a team in New York and ported the whole book to open- 
source applications like Inkscape, GIMP, and Processing. In a three-day book 
sprint, eight to ten people per day, with a wide range of technical experience, 
"FLOSSified" the whole book. 23 I attended the sprint primarily to observe 
and advise but did almost no actual translation; burrough did not attend. 
Since then, Jennifer Dopazo, at the time a graduate student in NYU's Inter- 
active Telecommunications Program, led a translation of the whole book 
into Spanish. 24 This book has been published and is going to be released in 
an extremely low-cost newsprint edition sponsored by Media Lab Prado in 
Madrid and distributed for free to design centers, schools, Internet cafes, co- 
working spaces, and community centers. In addition, there are active transla- 
tions into French, Farsi, Mandarin Chinese, Finnish, and German. 

We succeeded in giving the project away, and the project continues to 
evolve into new transformations and uses. We were able to achieve this 
because we were more strategic at an earlier stage than Lambert and I were 
with the Bright Idea Shade. We formed a partnership early and made sure 


that it was an open partnership that allowed us to make further partnerships 
with other individuals and organizations that were interested in the material 
we covered in the book and in the process by which we made the book. 

The materiality of the two projects differentiates them in a way that may 
be instructive. Digital Foundations has taken multiple physical forms: a trade 
paperback technical book published in an initial 2008 run of eight thousand 
copies, with a 2009 reprint of four thousand copies; two print-on-demand 
books published by FLOSSmanuals; and in the future, as five thousand cop- 
ies of a newsprint edition. 25 It has also taken multiple digital forms: the whole 
book is up on a wiki; the full FLOSS version is available in English and Span- 
ish from the website, where partially translated versions 
also live; and I put the entire master design file for the original book up as 
a torrent file on Clear Bits, a legal torrent site. 26 Digital Foundations was also 
closer in form to the more successful text/ code-based examples discussed in 
the introduction, though the significant design work in the book differentiates 
it from these text/code examples. Conversely, the Bright Idea Shade was nec- 
essarily a physical object. It was effectively a prototype for a kit that could have 
been manufactured in large scale. Its digital form was a set of vector files that 
a laser cutter could use to cut copies and an instruction set on Instructables. 
com: these were not the product; they were procedural tools that would help 
get to the end product. The Bright Idea Shade was rooted in physical material- 
ity, while Digital Foundations was whole both in physical and digital forms. 

The demands of participation were very different between the two proj- 
ects. For Digital Foundations we were able to make the process of sharing 
into a collaborative process, and one which accessed collaborators who had 
a range of experience, from expert to novice software users, to translators in 
multiple languages. Some of the most helpful participants in the translation 
book sprint were the people who had no experience with the FLOSS soft- 
ware into which we were translating the book; these contributors' respon- 
sibility was simply to work their way through the finished chapters, follow- 
ing the new instructions, and successfully completing each step along the 
way. When they got confused or encountered errors, the translators knew 
they had to rewrite that section. In the process they learned the software. 
With the translation process, contributions could be large or small. Though 
Dopazo translated the majority of the Spanish version, she did have collabo- 
rators translate and proofread. It is not all or nothing, and many small con- 
tributions led to a complete project. Conversely, the Bright Idea Shade was 
all or nothing. We were not trying to find a person to collaborate with but, 
rather, a company that had very specific capabilities. We were looking for a 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 195 

company to commit to the large-scale production of the design prototype we 
had created. This was not possible through collaboration; this did not access 
multiple skill levels; nor did it allow for incremental production. It was an 
all-or-nothing proposition, and as a result, it was not successful. 

Some time after we made the Bright Idea Shade, I covered my bicycle in 
black retroreflective vinyl. "Retroreflective" is a technical term that means 
that the material reflects directly back in the direction of a light source. This 
is the same reflective material on the backs of running shoes and night safety 
vests. I called the project Bright Bike, made a video, and released it online. 27 
By this time I was beginning to see the flaws with the plan for the Bright Idea 
Shade and to see the potential successes of the way we were planning the 
Digital Foundations project. I tried to include some of this knowledge in the 
plan for the Bright Bike. 

The vinyl comes in sizes starting at thirty-foot-long, fifteen-inch-wide 
rolls, but the initial kit required only six feet of fifteen- inch- wide vinyl. Eye- 
beam sold six-foot sections of the vinyl out of the Eyebeam Bookstore, but 
that was only accessible to people who happened to stop by in person. In 
an effort to expand that range, we approached our vinyl supplier to see if 
they would be willing to sell six-foot lengths of vinyl cut for the Bright Bike 
project. The supplier was interested, as the company happened to be run by 
an avid cyclist. They sold the vinyl in six-foot lengths to correspond to the 
Instructable that had the directions on it. 28 

We achieved some success. Despite the kits' being buried deep in the vinyl 
supplier s website, people did order them. Somewhere along the way I also real- 
ized that, like it or not, I was going to have to become a businessman, if only a 
small-scale DIY one. In this, I turned to Limor Fried's practice as an example. 
During her time at Eyebeam, she and Torrone had started a business called 
Adafruit Industries, selling the DIY kits she was making. 29 I made revisions 
to the original design, creating two different DIY kits that take five and fifteen 
minutes to apply each. 30 1 made a about one hundred of these kits on a friends 
vinyl cutter, sent out one e-mail, and quickly sold out. I launched a fundraising 
campaign via the crowdfunding site which raised $2,500 from 
eighty-six different "project backers" who each received rewards in the form of 
DIY kits. 31 Their support allowed me to buy a bulk order of the expensive vinyl 
and to make dedicated jigs, so I could fabricate the kits quickly (hand cutting 
with jigs proved faster and more accurate than using a vinyl cutter). 

Presently, I have shipped wholesale orders to a bicycle shop in Portland, 
Oregon, and to several design boutiques and bike shops in San Francisco and 
Amsterdam. I have an assistant who cuts and ships kits one day a week. The 


revenue from the kits is paying the wages of the assistant and for new sup- 
plies of the vinyl. The project is creating enough profit to sustain itself. By 
sustaining the project, I am creating the possibility for more people to get it 
in their hands, in the hope that one of them will use their hands and trans- 
form the project. It appears that this strategy is working: a number of Flickr 
users have posted creative applications of the kits, and I recently discovered 
that a bike shop to which I gave a sample has derived a modified version of 
the kit which they are putting on all of the bikes they sell. 32 

I was at a family event, and a distant cousin came up to me to talk about 
the Bright Bike kits. She thought it was a great idea, but she was very con- 
cerned that I patent the idea as soon as possible, lest "one of the big bike 
manufacturers steal it from you and make a lot of money and leave you with 
nothing." I told her that it would be wonderful if that happened, because I 
was really interested in design for bike safety and that a major bike manu- 
facturer could scale up the project much larger than an individual like me 
could. I also told her that based on my past experience, it was pretty unlikely 
that her fears would play out but that I still hoped they might. 


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. One of the potential pitfalls of this essay is trying to define the boundary between 
the two categories I am setting up. I do not set up this binary for the sake of defining bor- 
ders and establishing categories but, rather, to articulate different modes of production. In 
reality, this is a continuum, with some interesting cases floating in the middle. A digitized 
photograph is code, but the image itself has to be inputted and outputted from the com- 
puter. Additionally, it cannot be reworked quite as easily as code/text. While interesting, 
the exploration of these boundary cases is not the focus of this essay. 

2. Richard Stallman, "The GNU Manifesto,"; 
and Free Software Foundation, "The Free Software Definition" 
losophy/free-sw.html (accessed June 25, 2010). One of Richard Stallman's most creative 
contributions to this movement was the General Public License or GPL, http://www.gnu. 
org/licenses/gpl.html. Software licensed with the GPL is required to maintain that license 
in all future incarnations; this means that code that starts out open has to stay open. You 
cannot close the source code. This is known as a "copyleft" license. 

3. Eric Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2001). 

4. There is much debate in the subcultures of the free-culture movement about what 
terms to use. Some argue that the term "open source" is a neutered version of "free soft- 
ware" that caters to corporate entities like IBM that see the business potential in a software- 
authoring model that is built around sharing and group work but cannot allow the word 
"free" to enter into their business lexicon. While these disputes arise from time to time, the 
term "FLOSS" (or "FOSS") is used as a catchall acronym to refer to both terms. 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 197 

5. For more on the mechanics of Creative Commons licenses, please see http://cre- 

6. Mike Linksvayer, "Creative Commons Licenses on Flickr: Many More Images, 
Slightly More Freedom," Creative Commons Blog, March 10, 2010, http://creativecommons. 
org/weblog/entry/20870 (accessed June 25, 2010). 

7. There are even limitations beyond the materiality of the works: one group of lead- 
ing artist-engineers is currently working with Creative Commons on making it possible 
to license an electronic circuit via an open license, as it is currently not possible to fully 
do so. For video documentation, see Eyebeam, "Opening Hardware," March 17, 2010, (accessed April 11, 2010). 

8. Eyebeam has changed its internal structure to adapt to changing needs of its fellows 
and resident artists: at the time of Fried's fellowship, there were multiple labs with differ- 
ent licensing requirements. Due to external factors like the growing importance of free 
culture and internal factors like the fellows' desire to all work in one shared lab, the orga- 
nization collapsed the labs into one lab. Fellows are no longer designated "R&D fellow" or 
"production fellow" but are simply "fellows," and all contracts require open licenses. 

9. Graffiti Research Lab, "LED Throwies," Instructables, 2006, http://www.instruc- For modifications, see projects tagged "Throwies" on (accessed June 25, 2010). 
LED Throwies for sale: Hebei Ltd., cn/?p=throwies (accessed 
June 25, 2010). 

10. Lewis Hyde, The Gift (New York: Vintage, 1979); Adam Hyde et al., Collaborative 
Futures,, 2010, (accessed 
June 25, 2010). 

11. The term "Famo" comes from the URL; without the TLD 
(top-level domain "us"), the word "famous" is cut to "famo." 

12. James Powderly, Evan Roth, and Jamie Wilkinson, "Internet Famous Class, 
2007-2008," (accessed June 25, 2010). 

13. Ben McConnell, "The 1% Rule: Charting Citizen Participation," Church of the 
Customer Blog, May 3, 2006, 
ing_wiki_p.html (accessed June 29, 2011); Julia Angwin and Geoffrey A. Fowler, "Volun- 
teers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages," Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2009, http://online. (accessed June 25, 2010). 

14. For an edge case of this idea, see Michael Mandiberg,, 

15. Limor Fried and Phil Torrone, "Adafruit Laser Information Wiki,", 
first posted December 2005, last updated March 5, 2010, 
laserinfo/start (accessed July 20, 2010). 

16. Phil Torrone, personal interview, July 1, 2010. 

17. Camille Ricketts, "Microsoft Social App Co. Wallop Rebrands as Coveroo," Deals & 
More, December 17, 2008, 
co-wallop-rebrands-as-coveroo/ (accessed July 20, 2010). 

18. Vaporized PVC releases deadly chlorine gas. 

19. Dan Goldwater, "Universal Lamp Shade Polygon Building Kit," Instructables, http:// (accessed June 
25, 2010). "RE-WIRE: Piece Together Pendant Lamps," ReadyMade, December-January 


2007-2008. Antonio Carrillo, modular construction system, 1964; see, e.g., http://www. (accessed June 25, 2010). Holger Strom, "IQ Light," 
1972; see overview at (accessed June 25, 

20. Steve Lambert and Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Idea Shade," Vimeo, 2008, http:// (accessed June 25, 2010). 

21. xtine burrough and Michael Mandiberg, Digital Foundations: An Intro to Media 
Design (Berkeley, CA: Peachpit, 2008). 

22. xtine burrough and Michael Mandiberg, "Digital Foundations Wiki," http://wiki. (accessed July 20, 2010). 

23. community, Digital Foundations: Introduction to Media Design 
with FLOSS, 2009, (accessed June 25, 2010). 

24. community, Fundamentos Digitales: Introduction al diseho 
de medios con FLOSS, 2009, 
(accessed June 25, 2010). 

25. burrough and Mandiberg, Digital Foundations; community, 
Digital Foundations; community, Fundamentos Digitales. 

26. burrough and Mandiberg, "Digital Foundations Wiki"; xtine burrough and Michael 
Mandiberg, "Digital Foundations Master File," Clear Bits, 2009, 
(accessed June 25, 2010). 

27. Steve Lambert and Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Bike," Vimeo, 2008, http://vimeo. 
com/2409360 (accessed June 25, 2010). 

28. Beacon Graphics, (accessed June 
25, 2010); Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Bike," Instructables, 
id/Bright-Bike/ (accessed June 25, 2010). 

29. The business, Adafruit Industries (, is the creative outlet for 
Fried's physical computing projects and distributes her work into the hands and soldering 
irons of those who want to use the tools she is making. 

30. All of the images and blog posts about the first version that appeared online empha- 
sized how hard it was to actually complete the project and how long it took those who 
tried. Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Bike V2.0," Vimeo, 2009, 
(accessed June 25, 2010). 

31. Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Bike DIY Kits: Night Visibility for Safer Riding," Kick- 
starter, 2010, 
visibility-for-safer-r (accessed June 25, 2010). 

32. Michael Mandiberg, "Bright Bike Mod in Brooklyn," Michael Mandiberg's website, 
August 31, 2010, 
(accessed August 31, 2010). 

Giving Things Away Is Hard Work 199 

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Quentin Tarantinos Star Wars 7 . 

Grassroots Creativity Meets the Media Industry 


Shooting in garages and basement rec rooms, rendering F/X on 
home computers, and ripping music from CDs and MP3 files, fans have cre- 
ated new versions of the Star Wars (1977) mythology. In the words of Star 
Wars or Bust director Jason Wishnow, "This is the future of cinema — Star 
Wars is the catalyst." 1 

The widespread circulation of Star Wars-related commodities has placed 
resources into the hands of a generation of emerging filmmakers in their 
teens or early twenties. They grew up dressing as Darth Vader for Halloween, 
sleeping on Princess Leia sheets, battling with plastic light sabers, and play- 
ing with Boba Fett action figures. Star Wars has become their "legend," and 
now they are determined to remake it on their own terms. 

When AtomFilms launched an official Star Wars fan film contest in 2003, 
they received more than 250 submissions. Although the ardor has died down 
somewhat, the 2005 competition received more than 150 submissions. 2 And 
many more are springing up on the web via unofficial sites such as The-, which would fall outside the rules for the official contest. Many of 
these films come complete with their own posters or advertising campaigns. 
Some websites provide updated information about amateur films still in 

Fans have always been early adapters of new media technologies; their 
fascination with fictional universes often inspires new forms of cultural pro- 
duction, ranging from costumes to fanzines and, now, digital cinema. Fans 
are the most active segment of the media audience, one that refuses to sim- 
ply accept what they are given but, rather, insists on the right to become full 
participants. 3 None of this is new. What has shifted is the visibility of fan 
culture. The web provides a powerful new distribution channel for amateur 
cultural production. Amateurs have been making home movies for decades; 
these movies are going public. 


When Amazon introduced DVDs of George Lucas in Love (1999), perhaps 
the best known of the Star Wars parodies, it outsold the DVD of Star Wars 
Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) in its opening week. 4 Fan filmmakers, 
with some legitimacy, see their works as "calling cards" that may help them 
break into the commercial industry. In spring 1998, a two-page color spread 
in Entertainment Weekly profiled aspiring digital filmmaker Kevin Rubio, 
whose ten-minute, $1,200 film, Troops (1998), had attracted the interests of 
Hollywood insiders. 5 Troops spoofs Star Wars by offering a Cops-like profile 
of the stormtroopers who do the day-in, day-out work of policing Tatooine, 
settling domestic disputes, rounding up space hustlers, and trying to crush 
the Jedi Knights. As a result, the story reported, Rubio was fielding offers 
from several studios interested in financing his next project. Lucas admired 
the film so much that he gave Rubio a job writing for the Star Wars comic 
books. Rubio surfaced again in 2004 as a writer and producer for Duel Mas- 
ters (2004), a little-known series on the Cartoon Network. 

Fan digital film is to cinema what the punk DIY culture was to music. 
There, grassroots experimentation generated new sounds, new artists, new 
techniques, and new relations to consumers which have been pulled more 
and more into mainstream practice. Here, fan filmmakers are starting to 
make their way into the mainstream industry, and we are starting to see 
ideas — such as the use of game engines as animation tools — bubbling up 
from the amateurs and making their way into commercial media. 

If, as some have argued, the emergence of modern mass media spelled the 
doom for the vital folk culture traditions that thrived in nineteenth-century 
America, the current moment of media change is reaffirming the right of 
everyday people to actively contribute to their culture. Like the older folk 
culture of quilting bees and barn dances, this new vernacular culture encour- 
ages broad participation, grassroots creativity, and a bartering or gift econ- 
omy. This is what happens when consumers take media into their own hands. 
Of course, this may be altogether the wrong way to talk about it — since in a 
folk culture, there is no clear division between producers and consumers. 
Within convergence culture, everyone's a participant — although participants 
may have different degrees of status and influence. 

It may be useful to draw a distinction between interactivity and partici- 
pation, words that are often used interchangeably but which, in this essay, 
assume rather different meanings. 6 Interactivity refers to the ways that new 
technologies have been designed to be more responsive to consumer feed- 
back. One can imagine differing degrees of interactivity enabled by different 
communication technologies, ranging from television, which allows us only 


to change the channel, to video games that can allow consumers to act upon 
the represented world. Such relationships are of course not fixed: the intro- 
duction of TiVo can fundamentally reshape our interactions with television. 
The constraints on interactivity are technological. In almost every case, what 
you can do in an interactive environment is prestructured by the designer. 

Participation, on the other hand, is shaped by the cultural and social 
protocols. So, for example, the amount of conversation possible in a movie 
theater is determined more by the tolerance of audiences in different sub- 
cultures or national contexts than by any innate property of cinema itself. 
Participation is more open-ended, less under the control of media producers 
and more under the control of media consumers. 

Initially, the computer offered expanded opportunities for interacting with 
media content, and as long as it operated on that level, it was relatively easy for 
media companies to commodify and control what took place. Increasingly, 
though, the web has become a site of consumer participation that includes many 
unauthorized and unanticipated ways of relating to media content. Though this 
new participatory culture has its roots in practices that have occurred just below 
the radar of the media industry throughout the twentieth century, the web has 
pushed that hidden layer of cultural activity into the foreground, forcing the 
media industries to confront its implications for their commercial interests. 
Allowing consumers to interact with media under controlled circumstances is 
one thing; allowing them to participate in the production and distribution of 
cultural goods — on their own terms — is something else altogether. 

Grant McCracken, the cultural anthropologist and industry consultant, 
suggests that in the future, media producers must accommodate consumer 
demands to participate, or they will run the risk of losing the most active 
and passionate consumers to some other media interest that is more tolerant: 
"Corporations must decide whether they are, literally, in or out. Will they 
make themselves an island or will they enter the mix? Making themselves 
an island may have certain short-term financial benefits, but the long-term 
costs can be substantial." 7 As we have seen, the media industry is increasingly 
dependent on active and committed consumers to spread the word about 
valued properties in an overcrowded media marketplace, and in some cases 
they are seeking ways to channel the creative output of media fans to lower 
their production costs. At the same time, they are terrified of what happens 
if this consumer power gets out of control, as they claim occurred following 
the introduction of Napster and other file-sharing services. As fan produc- 
tivity goes public, it can no longer be ignored by the media industries, but it 
cannot be fully contained or channeled by them, either. 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 205 

One can trace two characteristic responses of media industries to this 
grassroots expression: starting with the legal battles over Napster, the media 
industries have increasingly adopted a scorched-earth policy toward their 
consumers, seeking to regulate and criminalize many forms of fan participa- 
tion that once fell below their radar. Let's call them the prohibitionists. To 
date, the prohibitionist stance has been dominant within old media com- 
panies (film, television, the recording industry), though these groups are to 
varying degrees starting to reexamine some of these assumptions. So far, the 
prohibitionists get most of the press— with lawsuits directed against teens 
who download music or against fan webmasters getting more and more cov- 
erage in the popular media. At the same time, on the fringes, new media 
companies (Internet, games, and to a lesser degree, the mobile phone com- 
panies) are experimenting with new approaches that see fans as important 
collaborators in the production of content and as grassroots intermediaries 
helping to promote the franchise. We will call them the collaborationists. 

The Star Wars franchise has been pulled between these two extremes 
both over time (as it responds to shifting consumer tactics and technologi- 
cal resources) and across media (as its content straddles between old and 
new media). Within the Star Wars franchise, Hollywood has sought to shut 
down fan fiction, later to assert ownership over it, and finally to ignore its 
existence; they have promoted the works of fan video makers but also limited 
what kinds of movies they can make; and they have sought to collaborate 
with gamers to shape a massively multiplayer game so that it better satisfies 
player fantasies. 

Folk Culture, Mass Culture, Convergence Culture 

At the risk of painting with broad strokes, the story of American arts in the 
nineteenth century might be told in terms of the mixing, matching, and 
merging of folk traditions taken from various indigenous and immigrant 
populations. Cultural production occurred mostly on the grassroots level; 
creative skills and artistic traditions were passed down mother to daughter, 
father to son. Stories and songs circulated broadly, well beyond their points 
of origin, with little or no expectation of economic compensation; many of 
the best ballads or folktales come to us today with no clear marks of indi- 
vidual authorship. While new commercialized forms of entertainment — the 
minstrel shows, the circuses, the showboats — emerged in the mid- to late 
nineteenth century, these professional entertainments competed with thriv- 
ing local traditions of barn dances, church sings, quilting bees, and campfire 


stories. There was no pure boundary between the emergent commercial cul- 
ture and the residual folk culture: the commercial culture raided folk culture, 
and folk culture raided commercial culture. 

The story of American arts in the twentieth century might be told in 
terms of the displacement of folk culture by mass media. Initially, the emerg- 
ing entertainment industry made its peace with folk practices, seeing the 
availability of grassroots singers and musicians as a potential talent pool, 
incorporating community sing-alongs into film exhibition practices, and 
broadcasting amateur-hour talent competitions. The new industrialized arts 
required huge investments and thus demanded a mass audience. The com- 
mercial entertainment industry set standards of technical perfection and 
professional accomplishment few grassroots performers could match. The 
commercial industries developed powerful infrastructures that ensured 
that their messages reached everyone in America who wasn't living under a 
rock. Increasingly, the commercial culture generated the stories, images, and 
sounds that mattered most to the public. 

Folk culture practices were pushed underground— people still composed 
and sang songs, amateur writers still scribbled verse, weekend painters still 
dabbled, people still told stories, and some local communities still held 
square dances. At the same time, grassroots fan communities emerged in 
response to mass media content. Some media scholars hold on to the use- 
ful distinction between mass culture (a category of production) and popular 
culture (a category of consumption), arguing that popular culture is what 
happens to the materials of mass culture when they get into the hands of 
consumers — when a song played on the radio becomes so associated with 
a particularly romantic evening that two young lovers decide to call it "our 
song," or when a fan becomes so fascinated with a particular television series 
that it inspires her to write original stories about its characters. In other 
words, popular culture is what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into 
folk culture. The culture industries never really had to confront the existence 
of this alternative cultural economy because, for the most part, it existed 
behind closed doors and its products circulated only among a small circle of 
friends and neighbors. Home movies never threatened Hollywood, as long as 
they remained in the home. 

The story of American arts in the twenty-first century might be told in 
terms of the public reemergence of grassroots creativity as everyday people 
take advantage of new technologies that enable them to archive, annotate, 
appropriate, and recirculate media content. It probably started with the pho- 
tocopier and desktop publishing; perhaps it started with the videocassette 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 207 

revolution, which gave the public access to moviemaking tools and enabled 
every home to have its own film library. But this creative revolution has so far 
culminated with the web. To create is much more fun and meaningful if you 
can share what you can create with others, and the web, built for collabora- 
tion within the scientific community, provides an infrastructure for sharing 
the things average Americans are making in their rec rooms. Once you have 
a reliable system of distribution, folk culture production begins to flourish 
again overnight. Most of what the amateurs create is gosh-awful bad, yet a 
thriving culture needs spaces where people can do bad art, get feedback, and 
get better. After all, much of what circulates through mass media is also bad 
by almost any criteria, but the expectations of professional polish make it a 
less hospitable environment for newcomers to learn and grow. Some of what 
amateurs create will be surprisingly good, and some artists will be recruited 
into commercial entertainment or the art world. Much of it will be good 
enough to engage the interest of some modest public, to inspire someone 
else to create, to provide new content which, when polished through many 
hands, may turn into something more valuable down the line. That's the way 
the folk process works, and grassroots convergence represents the folk pro- 
cess accelerated and expanded for the digital age. 

Given this history, it should be no surprise that much of what the public 
creates models itself after, exists in dialogue with, reacts to or against, and/or 
otherwise repurposes materials drawn from commercial culture. Grassroots 
convergence is embodied, for example, in the work of the game modders, 
who build on code and design tools created for commercial games as a foun- 
dation for amateur game production, or in digital filmmaking, which often 
directly samples material from commercial media, or adbusting, which bor- 
rows iconography from Madison Avenue to deliver an anticorporate or anti- 
consumerist message. Having buried the old folk culture, this commercial 
culture becomes the common culture. The older American folk culture was 
built on borrowings from various mother countries; the modern mass media 
builds upon borrowings from folk culture; the new convergence culture will 
be built on borrowings from various media conglomerates. 

The web has made visible the hidden compromises that enabled partici- 
patory culture and commercial culture to coexist throughout much of the 
twentieth century. Nobody minded, really, if you photocopied a few stories 
and circulated them within your fan club. Nobody minded, really, if you cop- 
ied a few songs and shared the dub tape with a friend. Corporations might 
know, abstractly, that such transactions were occurring all around them, 
every day, but they didn't know, concretely, who was doing it. And even if 


they did, they weren't going to come bursting into people's homes at night. 
But, as those transactions came out from behind closed doors, they repre- 
sented a visible, public threat to the absolute control the culture industries 
asserted over their intellectual property. 

With the consolidation of power represented by the Digital Millennium 
Copyright Act of 1998, American intellectual property law has been rewrit- 
ten to reflect the demands of mass media producers — away from providing 
economic incentives for individual artists and toward protecting the enor- 
mous economic investments media companies made in branded entertain- 
ment; away from a limited-duration protection that allows ideas to enter 
general circulation while they still benefit the common good and toward the 
notion that copyright should last forever; away from the ideal of a cultural 
commons and toward the ideal of intellectual property. As Lawrence Les- 
sig notes, the law has been rewritten so that "no one can do to the Disney 
Corporation what Walt Disney did to the Brothers Grimm." 8 One of the ways 
that the studios have propped up these expanded claims of copyright protec- 
tion is through the issuing of cease-and-desist letters intended to intimidate 
amateur cultural creators into removing their works from the web. In such 
situations, the studios often assert much broader control than they could 
legally defend: someone who stands to lose their home or their kid's college 
funds by going head-to-head with studio attorneys is apt to fold. After three 
decades of such disputes, there is still no case law that would help determine 
to what degree fan fiction is protected under fair- use law. 

Efforts to shut down fan communities run in the face of what we have 
learned so far about the new kinds of affective relationships advertisers and 
entertainment companies want to form with their consumers. Over the past 
several decades, corporations have sought to market branded content so that 
consumers become the bearers of their marketing messages. Marketers have 
turned our children into walking, talking billboards who wear logos on their 
T-shirts, sew patches on their backpacks, plaster stickers on their lockers, 
hang posters on their walls, but they must not, under penalty of law, post 
them on their home pages. Somehow, once consumers choose when and 
where to display those images, their active participation in the circulation 
of brands suddenly becomes a moral outrage and a threat to the industry's 
economic well-being. 

Today's teens— the so-called Napster generation— aren't the only ones 
who are confused about where to draw the lines here; media companies are 
giving out profoundly mixed signals because they really can't decide what 
kind of relationships they want to have with this new kind of consumer. They 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 209 

want us to look at but not touch, buy but not use, media content. This con- 
tradiction is felt perhaps most acutely when it comes to cult media content. 
A cult media success depends on courting fan constituencies and niche mar- 
kets; a mainstream success is seen by the media producers as depending on 
distancing themselves from them. The system depends on covert relation- 
ships between producers and consumers. The fans' labor in enhancing the 
value of an intellectual property can never be publicly recognized if the stu- 
dio is going to maintain that the studio alone is the source of all value in that 
property. The Internet, though, has blown their cover, since those fan sites 
are now visible to anyone who knows how to Google. 

Some industry insiders — for example, Chris Albrecht, who runs the offi- 
cial Star Wars film competition at AtomFilms, or Raph Koster, the former 
MUDder who has helped shape the Star Wars Galaxies (2002) game — come 
out of these grassroots communities and have a healthy respect for their 
value. They see fans as potentially revitalizing stagnant franchises and pro- 
viding a low-cost means of generating new media content. Often, such peo- 
ple are locked into power struggles within their own companies with others 
who would prohibit grassroots creativity. 

"Dude, We're Gonna Be Jedi!" 

George Lucas in Love depicts the future media mastermind as a singularly 
clueless USC film student who can't quite come up with a good idea for his 
production assignment, despite the fact that he inhabits a realm rich with 
narrative possibilities. His stoner roommate emerges from behind the hood 
of his dressing gown and lectures Lucas on "this giant cosmic force, an energy 
field created by all living things." His sinister next-door neighbor, an archri- 
val, dresses all in black and breathes with an asthmatic wheeze as he pro- 
claims, "My script is complete. Soon I will rule the entertainment universe." 
As Lucas races to class, he encounters a brash young friend who brags about 
his souped-up sports car and his furry-faced sidekick who growls when he 
hits his head on the hood while trying to do some basic repairs. His profes- 
sor, a smallish man, babbles cryptic advice, but all of this adds up to little 
until Lucas meets and falls madly for a beautiful young woman with buns 
on both sides of her head. Alas, the romance leads to naught as he eventually 
discovers that she is his long-lost sister. 

George Lucas in Love is, of course, a spoof of Shakespeare in Love (1998) 
and of Star Wars itself. It is also a tribute from one generation of USC film 
students to another. As co-creator Joseph Levy, a twenty-four-year-old recent 


graduate from Lucas's alma mater, explained, "Lucas is definitely the god of 
USC. . . . We shot our screening-room scene in the George Lucas Instruc- 
tional Building. Lucas is incredibly supportive of student filmmakers and 
developing their careers and providing facilities for them to be caught up 
to technology" 9 Yet what makes this film so endearing is the way it pulls 
Lucas down to the same level as countless other amateur filmmakers and, in 
so doing, helps to blur the line between the fantastical realm of space opera 
("A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away") and the familiar realm of 
everyday life (the world of stoner roommates, snotty neighbors, and incom- 
prehensible professors). Its protagonist is hapless in love, clueless at film- 
making, yet somehow he manages to pull it all together and produce one of 
the top-grossing motion pictures of all time. George Lucas in Love offers us a 
portrait of the artist as a young geek. 

One might contrast this rather down-to-earth representation of Lucas — 
the auteur as amateur — with the way fan filmmaker Evan Mather's web- 
site ( constructs the amateur as an emergent 
auteur. 10 Along one column of the site can be found a filmography, listing all 
of Mather's productions going back to high school, as well as a listing of the 
various newspapers, magazines, websites, and television and radio stations 
that have covered his work — La Republica, Le Monde, the New York Times, 
Wired, Entertainment Weekly, CNN, NPR, and so forth. Another sidebar 
provides up-to-the-moment information about his works in progress. Else- 
where, you can see news of the various film-festival screenings of his films 
and whatever awards they have won. More than nineteen digital films are 
featured with photographs, descriptions, and links for downloading them in 
multiple formats. 

Another link allows you to call up a glossy, full-color, professionally 
designed brochure documenting the making of Les Pantless Menace (1999), 
which includes close-ups of various props and settings, reproductions of 
stills, score sheets, and storyboards, and detailed explanations of how he was 
able to do the special effects, soundtrack, and editing for the film (fig. 15.1). 
We learn, for example, that some of the dialogue was taken directly from 
Commtech chips that were embedded within Hasbro Star Wars toys. A biog- 
raphy provides some background: 

Evan Mather spent much of his childhood running around south Loui- 
siana with an eight-millimeter silent camera staging hitchhikings and 
assorted buggery. ... As a landscape architect, Mr. Mather spends his 
days designing a variety of urban and park environments in the Seattle 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 211 

area. By night, Mr. Mather explores the realm of digital cinema and is the 
renowned creator of short films which fuse traditional hand drawn and 
stop motion animation techniques with the flexibility and realism of com- 
puter generated special effects. 

Though his background and production techniques are fairly ordinary, 
the incredibly elaborate, self-conscious, and determinedly professional 
design of his website is anything but. His website illustrates what happens as 
this new amateur culture gets directed toward larger and larger publics.'s Fan Theater, for example, allows amateur directors to offer 
their own commentary. The creators of When Senators Attack IV (1999), for 
example, give "comprehensive scene-by-scene commentary" on their film: 
"Over the next 90 pages or so, you'll receive an insight into what we were 
thinking when we made a particular shot, what methods we used, expla- 
nations to some of the more puzzling scenes, and anything else that comes 
to mind." 11 Such materials mirror the tendency of recent DVD releases to 
include alternative scenes, cut footage, storyboards, and director's commen- 
tary. Many of the websites provide information about fan films under pro- 
duction, including preliminary footage, storyboards, and trailers for films 
that may never be completed. Almost all of the amateur filmmakers create 
posters and advertising images, taking advantage of Adobe PageMaker and 
Adobe Photoshop. In many cases, the fan filmmakers produce elaborate trail- 
ers. These materials facilitate amateur film culture. The making-of articles 
share technical advice; such information helps to improve the overall quality 
of work within the community. The trailers also respond to the specific chal- 
lenges of the web as a distribution channel: it can take minutes to download 
relatively long digital movies, and the shorter, lower- resolution trailers (often 
distributed in a streaming video format) allow would-be viewers to sample 
the work. 

All of this publicity surrounding the Star Wars parodies serves as a 
reminder of what is the most distinctive quality of these amateur films — the 
fact that they are so public. The idea that amateur filmmakers could develop 
such a global following runs counter to the historical marginalization of 
grassroots media production. In the book Reel Families: A Social History of 
Amateur Film (1995), film historian Patricia R. Zimmermann offers a com- 
pelling history of amateur filmmaking in the United States, examining the 
intersection between nonprofessional film production and the Hollywood 
entertainment system. While amateur filmmaking has existed since the 
advent of cinema, and while periodically critics have promoted it as a grass- 


i \ r_-* 

Fig. 15.1. Fan filmmaker Evan Mather's Les Pantless Menace 
creates anarchic comedy through creative use of Star Wars 
action figures. (Reprinted with the permission of the artist) 

roots alternative to commercial production, the amateur film has remained, 
first and foremost, the "home movie" in several senses of the term: first, 
amateur films were exhibited primarily in private (and most often, domes- 
tic) spaces lacking any viable channel of public distribution; second, amateur 
films were most often documentaries of domestic and family life; and third, 
amateur films were perceived to be technically flawed and of marginal inter- 
est beyond the immediate family. Critics stressed the artlessness and spon- 
taneity of amateur film in contrast with the technical polish and aesthetic 
sophistication of commercial films. Zimmermann concludes, "[Amateur 
film] was gradually squeezed into the nuclear family. Technical standards, 
aesthetic norms, socialization pressures and political goals derailed its cul- 
tural construction into a privatized, almost silly, hobby." 12 Writing in the early 
1990s, Zimmermann saw little reason to believe that the camcorder and the 
VCR would significantly alter this situation. The mediums technical limita- 
tions made it difficult for amateurs to edit their films, and the only public 
means of exhibition were controlled by commercial media makers (as in pro- 
grams such as Americas Funniest Home Videos, 1990). 

Digital filmmaking alters many of the conditions that led to the margin - 
alization of previous amateur filmmaking efforts — the web provides an exhi- 
bition outlet moving amateur filmmaking from private into public space; 
digital editing is far simpler than editing Super-8 or video and thus opens 
up a space for amateur artists to reshape their material more directly; the 
home PC has even enabled the amateur filmmaker to mimic the special 
effects associated with Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars. Digital cin- 
ema is a new chapter in the complex history of interactions between amateur 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 


filmmakers and the commercial media. These films remain amateur, in the 
sense that they are made on low budgets, produced and distributed in non- 
commercial contexts, and generated by nonprofessional filmmakers (albeit 
often by people who want entry into the professional sphere). Yet many of 
the other classic markers of amateur film production have disappeared. No 
longer home movies, these films are public movies — public in that, from the 
start, they are intended for audiences beyond the filmmakers immediate 
circle of friends and acquaintances; public in their content, which involves 
the reworking of popular mythologies; and public in their dialogue with the 
commercial cinema. 

Digital filmmakers tackled the challenge of making Star Wars movies for 
many different reasons. As George Lucas in Love co-creator Joseph Levy has 
explained, "Our only intention . . . was to do something that would get the 
agents and producers to put the tapes into their VCRs instead of throwing 
them away" 13 Kid Wars (2000) director Dana Smith is a fourteen-year-old 
who had recently acquired a camcorder and decided to stage scenes from Star 
Wars involving his younger brother and his friends, who armed themselves 
for battle with squirt guns and Nerf weapons. The Jedi Who Loved Me (2000) 
was shot by the members of a wedding party and intended as a tribute to the 
bride and groom, who were Star Wars fans. Some films — such as Macbeth 
(1998) — were school projects. Two high school students — Bienvenido Con- 
ception and Don Fitz-Roy — shot the film, which creatively blurred the lines 
between Lucas and Shakespeare, for their high school advanced-placement 
English class. They staged light-saber battles down the school hallway, though 
the principal was concerned about potential damage to lockers; the Millen- 
nium Falcon lifted off from the gym, though they had to composite it over the 
cheerleaders who were rehearsing the day they shot that particular sequence. 
Still other films emerged as collective projects for various Star Wars fan clubs. 
Boba Lett: Bounty Trail (2002), for example, was filmed for a competition 
hosted by a Melbourne, Australia, Lucasfilm convention. Each cast member 
made his or her own costumes, building on previous experience with science- 
fiction masquerades and costume contests. Their personal motives for mak- 
ing such films are of secondary interest, however, once they are distributed 
on the web. If such films are attracting worldwide interest, it is not because we 
all care whether Bienvenido Conception and Don Fitz-Roy got a good grade 
on their Shakespeare assignment. Rather, what motivated faraway viewers to 
watch such films is their shared investment in the Star Wars universe. 

Amateur filmmakers are producing commercial- or near-commercial- 
quality content on minuscule budgets. They remain amateur in the sense that 


they do not earn their revenue through their work (much the way we might 
call Olympic athletes amateur), but they are duplicating special effects that 
had cost a small fortune to generate only a decade earlier. Amateur filmmak- 
ers can make pod racers skim along the surface of the ocean or land speed- 
ers scatter dust as they zoom across the desert. They can make laser beams 
shoot out of ships and explode things before our eyes. Several fans tried their 
hands at duplicating Jar Jar's character animation and inserting him into 
their own movies, with varying degrees of success. The light-saber battle, 
however, has become the gold standard of amateur filmmaking, with almost 
every filmmaker compelled to demonstrate his or her ability to achieve this 
particular effect. Many of the Star Wars shorts, in fact, consist of little more 
than light-saber battles staged in suburban dens and basements, in empty 
lots, in the hallways of local schools, inside shopping malls, or more exoti- 
cally against the backdrop of medieval ruins (shot during vacations). Shane 
Faleux used an open-source approach to completing his forty-minute opus, 
Star Wars: Revelations (2005), one of the most acclaimed recent works in the 
movement (fig. 15.2). As Faleux explained, "Revelations was created to give 
artisans and craftsmen the chance to showcase their work, allow all those 
involved a chance to live the dream, and maybe — just maybe — open the eyes 
in the industry as to what can be done with a small budget, dedicated people, 
and undiscovered talent." 14 Hundreds of people around the world contrib- 
uted to the project, including more than thirty different computer-graphics 
artists, ranging from folks within special-effects companies to talented teen- 
agers. When the film was released via the web, more than a million people 
downloaded it. 

As amateur filmmakers are quick to note, Lucas and Steven Spielberg both 
made Super-8 fiction films as teenagers and saw this experience as a major 
influence on their subsequent work. Although these films are not publicly 
available, some of them have been discussed in detail in various biographies 
and magazine profiles. These "movie brat" filmmakers have been quick to 
embrace the potentials of digital filmmaking, not simply as a means of low- 
ering production costs for their own films but also as a training ground for 
new talent. Lucas, for example, told Wired magazine, "Some of the special 
effects that we redid for Star Wars were done on a Macintosh, on a laptop, in 
a couple of hours. ... I could have very easily shot the Young Indy TV series 
on Hi-8. ... So you can get a Hi-8 camera for a few thousand bucks, more 
for the software and the computer for less than $10,000 you have a movie 
studio. There's nothing to stop you from doing something provocative and 
significant in that medium." 15 Lucas's rhetoric about the potentials of digital 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 215 

Fig. 15.2. Publicity materials created for Star Wars: Revelations, 
a forty-minute opus made through the combined efforts of 
hundreds of fan filmmakers worldwide. 

filmmaking has captured the imagination of amateur filmmakers, and they 
are taking on the master on his own ground. 

As Clay Kronke, a Texas A&M University undergraduate who made The 
New World (1999), explained, "This film has been a labor of love. A venture 
into a new medium. . . . I've always loved light sabers and the mythos of the 
Jedi and after getting my hands on some software that would allow me to 
actually become what I had once only admired at a distance, a vague idea 
soon started becoming a reality. . . . Dude, we're gonna be Jedi." 16 Kronke 
openly celebrates the fact that he made the film on a $26.79 budget, with 
most of the props and costumes part of their preexisting collections of Star 
Wars paraphernalia, that the biggest problem they faced on the set was that 
their plastic light sabers kept shattering, and that its sound effects included 
"the sound of a coat hanger against a metal flashlight, my microwave door, 
and myself falling on the floor several times." 

The mass marketing of Star Wars inadvertently provided many of the 
resources needed to support these productions. Star Wars is, in many ways, the 
prime example of media convergence at work. Lucas's decision to defer salary 
for the first Star Wars film in favor of maintaining a share of ancillary profits 
has been widely cited as a turning point in the emergence of this new strategy 
of media production and distribution. Lucas made a ton of money, and Twen- 
tieth Century Fox Film Corporation learned a valuable lesson. Kenner's Star 
Wars action figures are thought to have been the key in reestablishing the value 
of media tie-in products in the toy industry, and John Williams's score helped 



to revitalize the market for soundtrack albums. The rich narrative universe of 
the Star Wars saga provided countless images, icons, and artifacts that could 
be reproduced in a wide variety of forms. Despite the lengthy gap between 
the release dates for Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Phantom Menace (1999), 
Lucasfilm continued to generate profits from its Star Wars franchise through 
the production of original novels and comic books, the distribution of video 
tapes and audio tapes, the continued marketing of Star Wars toys and mer- 
chandise, and the maintenance of an elaborate publicity apparatus, including a 
monthly glossy newsletter for Star Wars fans. 

Many of these toys and trinkets were trivial when read in relation to other 
kinds of transmedia storytelling: they add little new information to the expand- 
ing franchise. Yet they took on deeper meanings as they became resources 
for children's play or for digital filmmaking. The amateur filmmakers often 
make use of commercially available costumes and props, sample music from 
the soundtrack album and sounds of Star Wars videos or computer games, 
and draw advice on special-effects techniques from television documentaries 
and mass-market magazines. For example, the makers of Duel described the 
sources for their soundtrack: "We sampled most of the light saber sounds from 
The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition laserdisc, and a few from A New Hope. 
Jedi was mostly useless to us, as the light saber battles in the film are always 
accompanied by music. The kicking sounds are really punch sounds from 
Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there's one sound — Hideous running across the 
sand — that we got from Lawrence of Arabia. Music, of course, comes from The 
Phantom Menace soundtrack." 17 The availability of these various ancillary prod- 
ucts has encouraged these filmmakers, since childhood, to construct their own 
fantasies within the Star Wars universe. One fan critic explained, "Odds are if 
you were a kid in the seventies, you probably fought in schoolyards over who 
would play Han, lost a Wookiee action figure in your backyard and dreamed 
of firing that last shot on the Death Star. And probably your daydreams and 
conversations weren't about William Wallace, Robin Hood or Odysseus, but, 
instead, light saber battles, frozen men and forgotten fathers. In other words, 
we talked about our legend." 18 The action figures provided this generation with 
some of their earliest avatars, encouraging them to assume the role of a Jedi 
Knight or an intergalactic bounty hunter, enabling them to physically manipu- 
late the characters to construct their own stories. 

Not surprisingly, a significant number of filmmakers in their late teens 
and early twenties have turned toward those action figures as resources 
for their first production efforts. Toy Wars (2002) producers Aaron Halon 
and Jason VandenBerghe launched an ambitious plan to produce a shot- 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 217 

by-shot remake of Star Wars: A New Hope, cast entirely with action figures. 
These action-figure movies require constant resourcefulness on the part of 
the amateur filmmakers. Damon Wellner and Sebastian O'Brien, two self- 
proclaimed "action-figure nerds" from Cambridge, Massachusetts, formed 
Probot Productions with the goal of "making toys as alive as they seemed 
in childhood." The Probot website ( offers this 
explanation of their production process: 

The first thing you need to know about Probot Productions is that we're 
broke. We spend all our $$$ on toys. This leaves a very small budget for 
special effects, so we literally have to work with what we can find in the 
garbage. . . . For sets we used a breadbox, a ventilation tube from a dryer, 
cardboard boxes, a discarded piece from a vending machine, and milk 
crates. Large Styrofoam pieces from stereo component boxes work very 
well to create spaceship-like environments! 19 

No digital filmmaker has pushed the aesthetics of action-figure cinema 
as far as Evan Mather. Mather's films, such as Godzilla versus Disco Lando, 
KungFu Kenobi's Big Adventure, and Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars, represent 
a no-holds-barred romp through contemporary popular culture. The rock- 
em, sock-'em action of Kung Fu Kenobi's Big Adventure takes place against 
the backdrop of settings sampled from the film, drawn by hand, or built 
from LEGO blocks, with the eclectic and evocative soundtrack borrowed 
from Neil Diamond, Mission Impossible (1996), Fee-Wee's Big Adventure 
(1985), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Disco Lando puts the moves 
on everyone from Admiral Ackbar to Jabba's blue-skinned dancing girl, and 
all of his pickup lines come from the soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back. 
Mace Windu "gets medieval" on the Jedi Council, delivering Samuel L. Jack- 
son's lines from Pulp Fiction (1994) before shooting up the place. The cam- 
era focuses on the bald head of a dying Darth Vader as he gasps, "Rosebud." 
Apart from the anarchic humor and rapid-fire pace, Mather's films stand 
out because of their visual sophistication. Mather's own frenetic style has 
become increasingly distinguished across the body of his works, constantly 
experimenting with different forms of animation, flashing or masked images, 
and dynamic camera movements. 

Yet, if the action-figure filmmakers have developed an aesthetic based on 
their appropriation of materials from the mainstream media, then the main- 
stream media has been quick to imitate that aesthetic. Nickelodeon's short- 
lived Action League Now!!! (1994), for example, had a regular cast of char- 


acters consisting of mismatched dolls and mutilated action figures. In some 
cases, their faces had been melted or mangled through inappropriate play. 
One protagonist had no clothes. They came in various size scales, suggest- 
ing the collision of different narrative universes that characterizes children's 
action-figure play. MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch (1998) created its action 
figures using claymation, staging World Wrestling Federation-style bouts 
between various celebrities, some likely (Monica Lewinsky against Hill- 
ary Clinton), some simply bizarre (the rock star formerly known as Prince 
against Prince Charles). 

Or consider the case of the Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken (a stop- 
motion animation series) produced by Seth Green (formerly of Buffy the 
Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers) and Matthew Senreich: think of it as a 
sketch-comedy series where all of the parts are played by action figures. The 
show spoofs popular culture, mixing and matching characters with the same 
reckless abandon as a kid playing on the floor with his favorite collectibles. 
In its rendition of MTV's The Real World, Superman, Aquaman, Batman, 
Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, the Hulk, and other superheroes share an 
apartment and deal with real-life issues, such as struggles for access to the 
bathroom or conflicts about who is going to do household chores. Or, in its 
take on American Idol, the contestants are zombies of dead rock stars, and 
the judges are breakfast-cereal icons — Frankenberry (as Randy), Booberry 
(as Paula), and Count Chocula (as Simon). 

The series originated as part of a regular feature in Toy Fare, a niche mag- 
azine which targets action-figure collectors and model builders. Seth Green, 
a fan of the publication, asked the magazine's contributors to help him put 
together a special animated segment for Green's forthcoming appearance on 
The Conan O'Brien Show, which in turn led to an invitation to produce a 
series of web toons for Sony's short-lived but highly influential Screenblast, 
which in turn led to an invitation to produce a television series as part of 
the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" lineup. We can thus trace step by step 
how this concept moves from the fan subculture across a range of sites noted 
for cult media content. 20 News coverage of the series stresses Seth Green's 
own status as a toy collector and often describes the challenges faced by the 
program's "toy wrangler," who goes onto eBay or searches retro shops for the 
specific toys needed to cast segments, blurring the line between amateur and 
commercial media-making practices. 21 

The web represents a site of experimentation and innovation, where ama- 
teurs test the waters, developing new practices and themes and generating 
materials that may well attract cult followings on their own terms. The most 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 219 

commercially viable of those practices are then absorbed into the main- 
stream media, either directly through the hiring of new talent or the devel- 
opment of television, video, or big-screen works based on those materials, 
or indirectly, through a second-order imitation of the same aesthetic and 
thematic qualities. In return, the mainstream media materials may provide 
inspiration for subsequent amateur efforts, which push popular culture in 
new directions. In such a world, fan works can no longer be understood as 
simply derivative of mainstream materials but must be understood as them- 
selves open to appropriation and reworking by the media industries. 

"The 500-Pound Wookiee" 

Fans take reassurance that Lucas and his cronies, at least sometimes, take 
a look at what fans have made and send them his blessing. In fact, part of 
the allure of participating in the official Star Wars fan cinema competition 
is the fact that Lucas personally selects the winner from finalists identified 
by AtomFilms' Chris Albrecht and vetted by staffers at LucasArts. There is 
no doubt that Lucas personally likes at least some form of fan creativity. As 
Albrecht explains, "Hats off to Lucas for recognizing that this is happening 
and giving the public a chance to participate in a universe they know and 
love. There's nothing else like this out there. No other producer has gone 
this far." 22 On other levels, the company — and perhaps Lucas himself — has 
wanted to control what fans produced and circulated. Jim Ward, vice presi- 
dent of marketing for Lucasfilm, told New York Times reporter Amy Harmon 
in 2002, "We've been very clear all along on where we draw the line. We love 
our fans. We want them to have fun. But if in fact somebody is using our 
characters to create a story unto itself, that's not in the spirit of what we think 
fandom is about. Fandom is about celebrating the story the way it is." 23 Lucas 
wants to be "celebrated" but not appropriated. 

Lucas has opened up a space for fans to create and share what they create 
with others but only on his terms. The franchise has struggled with these 
issues from the 1970s to the present, desiring some zone of tolerance within 
which fans can operate while asserting some control over what happens to 
his story. In that history, there have been some periods when the company 
was highly tolerant and others when it was pretty aggressive about trying 
to close off all or some forms of fan fiction. At the same time, the different 
divisions of the same company have developed different approaches to deal- 
ing with fans: the games division has thought of fans in ways consistent with 
how other game companies think about fans (and is probably on the more 


permissive end of the spectrum), and the film division has tended to think 
like a motion-picture company and has been a bit less comfortable with fan 
participation. I make this point not to say LucasArts is bad to fans— in many 
ways, the company seems more forward thinking and responsive to the fan 
community than most Hollywood companies— but to illustrate the ways the 
media industry is trying to figure out its response to fan creativity. 

In the beginning, Lucasfilm actively encouraged fan fiction, establishing a 
no-fee licensing bureau in 1977 that would review material and offer advice 
about potential copyright infringement. 24 By the early 1980s, these arrange- 
ments broke down, allegedly because Lucas had stumbled onto some exam- 
ples of fan erotica that shocked his sensibilities. By 1981, Lucasfilm was issu- 
ing warnings to fans who published zines containing sexually explicit stories, 
while implicitly giving permission to publish nonerotic stories about the 
characters as long as they were not sold for profit: "Since all of the Star Wars 
saga is PG-rated, any story those publishers print should also be PG. Lucas- 
film does not produce any X-rated Star Wars episodes, so why should we be 
placed in a light where people think we do?" 25 Most fan erotica was pushed 
underground by this policy, though it continued to circulate informally. The 
issue resurfaced in the 1990s: fan fiction of every variety thrived on the "elec- 
tronic frontier." One website, for example, provided regularly updated links 
to fan and fan-fiction websites for more than 153 films, books, and television 
shows, ranging from Airwolf (1984) to Zorro (1975). 26 Star Wars zine editors 
poked their heads above ground, cautiously testing the waters. Jeanne Cole, 
a spokesperson for Lucasfilm, explained, "What can you do? How can you 
control it? As we look at it, we appreciate the fans, and what would we do 
without them? If we anger them, what's the point?" 27 

Media scholar Will Brooker cites a 1996 corporate notice that explains, 
"Since the internet is growing so fast, we are in the process of developing 
guidelines for how we can enhance the ability of Star Wars fans to communi- 
cate with each other without infringing on Star Wars copyrights and trade- 
marks." 28 The early lawless days of the Internet were giving way to a period 
of heightened corporate scrutiny and expanding control. Even during what 
might be seen as a "honeymoon" period, some fans felt that Lucasfilm was 
acting like a "500-pound Wookiee," throwing its weight around and making 
threatening noises. 29 

Lucasfilm's perspective seemed relatively enlightened, even welcoming, 
when compared with how other media producers responded to their fans. 
In the late 1990s, Viacom experimented with a strong-arm approach to fan 
culture — starting in Australia. A representative of the corporation called 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 221 

together leaders of fan clubs from across the country and laid down new 
guidelines for their activities. 30 These guidelines prohibited the showing of 
series episodes at club meetings unless those episodes had previously been 
made commercially available in that market. (This policy has serious conse- 
quences for Australian fans because they often get series episodes a year or 
two after they air in the United States, and the underground circulation and 
exhibition of video tapes had enabled them to participate actively in online 
discussions.) Similarly, Viacom cracked down on the publication and distri- 
bution of fanzines and prohibited the use of Star Trek (1966) trademarked 
names in convention publicity. Their explicitly stated goal was to push fans 
toward participation in a corporately controlled fan club. 

In 2000, Lucasfilm offered Star Wars fans free web space (www.starwars. 
com) and unique content for their sites, but only under the condition that 
whatever they created would become the studios intellectual property. As the 
official notice launching this new "Homestead" explained, "To encourage the 
on- going excitement, creativity, and interaction of our dedicated fans in the 
online Star Wars community, Lucas Online ( 
sions/online/) is pleased to offer for the first time an official home for fans to 
celebrate their love of Star Wars on the World Wide Web." 31 Historically, fan 
fiction had proven to be a point of entry into commercial publication for at 
least some amateurs, who were able to sell their novels to the professional 
book series centering on the various franchises. If Lucasfilm Ltd. claimed to 
own such rights, they could publish them without compensation, and they 
could also remove them without permission or warning. 

Elizabeth Durack was one of the more outspoken leaders of a campaign 
urging her fellow Star Wars fans not to participate in these new arrange- 
ments: "That's the genius of Lucasfilm's offering fans web space — it lets them 
both look amazingly generous and be even more controlling than before. 
. . . Lucasfilm doesn't hate fans, and they don't hate fan websites. They can 
indeed see how they benefit from the free publicity they represent — and 
who doesn't like being adored? This move underscores that as much as any- 
thing. But they're also scared, and that makes them hurt the people who love 
them." 32 Durack argued that fan fiction does indeed pay respect to Lucas as 
the creator of Star Wars, yet the fans also wanted to hold on to their right to 
participate in the production and circulation of the Star Wars saga that had 
become so much a part of their lives: "It has been observed by many writ- 
ers that Star Wars (based purposely on the recurring themes of mythology 
by creator George Lucas) and other popular media creations take the place 
in modern America that culture myths like those of the Greeks or Native 


Americans did for earlier peoples. Holding modern myths hostage by way of 
corporate legal wrangling seems somehow contrary to nature." 

Today, relations between LucasArts and the fan-fiction community have 
thawed somewhat. Though I haven't been able to find any official statement 
signaling a shift in policy, Star Wars fan fiction is all over the web, includ- 
ing on several of the most visible and mainstream fan sites. The webmas- 
ters of those sites say that they deal with the official production company all 
the time on a range of different matters, but they have never been asked to 
remove what once might have been read as infringing materials. Yet what 
Lucas giveth, he can also taketh away. Many fan writers have told me that 
they remain nervous about how the "Powers That Be" are apt to respond to 
particularly controversial stories. 

Lucas and his movie-brat cronies clearly identified more closely with the 
young digital filmmakers who were making "calling card" movies to try to 
break into the film industry than they did with female fan writers sharing 
their erotic fantasies. By the end of the 1990s, however, Lucas's tolerance of 
fan filmmaking had given way to a similar strategy of incorporation and con- 
tainment. In November 2000, Lucasfilm designated the commercial digital- 
cinema site as the official host for Star Wars fan films. The 
site would provide a library of official sound effects and run periodic contests 
to recognize outstanding amateur accomplishment. In return, participating 
filmmakers would agree to certain constraints on content: "Films must par- 
ody the existing Star Wars universe, or be a documentary of the Star Wars 
fan experience. No 'fan fiction' — which attempts to expand on the Star Wars 
universe — will be accepted. Films must not make use of copyrighted Star 
Wars music or video, but may use action figures and the audio clips provided 
in the production kit section of this site. Films must not make unauthorized 
use of copyrighted property from any other film, song, or composition." 33 
Here, we see the copyright regimes of mass culture being applied to the folk 
culture process. 

A work like Star Wars: Revelations would be prohibited from entering 
the official Star Wars competition because it sets its own original dramatic 
story in the interstices between the third and fourth Star Wars films and 
thus constitutes "fan fiction." Albrecht, the man who oversees the competi- 
tion, offered several explanations for the prohibition. For one thing, Lucas 
saw himself and his company as being at risk for being sued for plagiarism 
if he allowed himself to come into contact with fan-produced materials that 
mimicked the dramatic structure of the film franchise should anything in 
any official Star Wars material make use of similar characters or situations. 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 223 

For another, Albrecht suggested, there was a growing risk of consumer con- 
fusion about what constituted an official Star Wars product. Speaking about 
Revelations, Albrecht suggested, "Up until the moment the actors spoke, 
you wouldn't be able to tell whether that was a real Star Wars film or a fan 
creation because the special effects are so good. ... As the tools get better, 
there is bound to be confusion in the marketplace." In any case, Lucasfilm 
would have had much less legal standing in shutting down parody, which 
enjoys broad protections under current case law, or documentaries about the 
phenomenon itself, which would fall clearly into the category of journalistic 
and critical commentary. Lucasfilm was, in effect, tolerating what it legally 
must accept in return for shutting down what it might otherwise be unable 
to control. 

These rules are anything but gender neutral: though the gender lines are 
starting to blur in recent years, the overwhelming majority of fan parody is 
produced by men, while "fan fiction" is almost entirely produced by women. 
In the female fan community, fans have long produced "song videos" that 
are edited together from found footage drawn from film or television shows 
and set to pop music. These fan vids often function as a form of fan fiction 
to draw out aspects of the emotional lives of the characters or otherwise get 
inside their heads. They sometimes explore underdeveloped subtexts of the 
original film, offer original interpretations of the story, or suggest plotlines 
that go beyond the work itself. The emotional tone of these works could 
not be more different from the tone of the parodies featured in the official 
contests — films such as Sith Apprentice, where the Emperor takes some 
would-be stormtroopers back to the board room; Anakin Dynamite, where 
a young Jedi must confront "idiots" much like his counterpart in the cult 
success Napoleon Dynamite (2004); or Intergalactic Idol (2003), where audi- 
ences get to decide which contestant really has the force. By contrast, Diane 
Williams's Come What May (2001), a typical song vid, uses images from 
The Phantom Menace to explore the relationship between Obi- Wan Kenobi 
and his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn. The images show the passionate friendship 
between the two men and culminate in the repeated images of Obi-Wan cra- 
dling the crumbled body of his murdered comrade following his battle with 
Darth Maul. The images are accompanied by the song "Come What May," 
taken from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (2001) and per- 
formed by Ewan McGregor, the actor who also plays the part of Obi-Wan 
Kenobi in Phantom Menace. 

Whether AtomFilms would define such a work to be a parody would be a 
matter of interpretation: while playful at places, it lacks the broad comedy of 


most of the male-produced Star Wars movies, involves a much closer iden- 
tification with the characters, and hints at aspects of their relationship that 
have not explicitly been represented on screen. Come What May would be 
read by most fans as falling within the slash subgenre, constructing erotic 
relations between same- sex characters, and would be read melodramatically 
rather than satirically. Of course, from a legal standpoint, Come What May 
may represent parody, which doesn't require that the work be comical but 
simply that it be appropriate and transform the original for the purposes of 
critical commentary. It would be hard to argue that a video that depicts Obi- 
Wan and Qui-Gon as lovers does not transform the original in a way that 
expands its potential meanings. Most likely, this and other female-produced 
song videos would be regarded as fan fiction; Come What May would also 
run afoul of AtomFilms' rules against appropriating content from the films 
or from other media properties. 

These rules create a two-tier system: some works can be rendered more 
public because they conform to what the rights holder sees as an acceptable 
appropriation of their intellectual property, while others remain hidden from 
view (or at least distributed through less official channels). In this case, these 
works have been so cut off from public visibility that when I ask Star Wars 
digital filmmakers about the invisibility of these mostly female-produced 
works, most of them have no idea that women were even making Star Wars 

Anthropologist and marketing consultant Grant McCracken has expressed 
some skepticism about the parallels fans draw between their grassroots cul- 
tural production and traditional folk culture: "Ancient heroes did not belong 
to everyone, they did not serve everyone, they were not for everyone to do 
with what they would. These commons were never very common." 34 For the 
record, my claims here are altogether more particularized than the sweeping 
analogies to Greek myths that provoked McCracken's ire. He is almost cer- 
tainly right that who could tell those stories, under what circumstances, and 
for what purposes reflected hierarchies operating within classical culture. My 
analogy, on the other hand, refers to a specific moment in the emergence 
of American popular culture, when songs often circulated well beyond their 
points of origin, lost any acknowledgment of their original authorship, were 
repurposed and reused to serve a range of different interests, and were very 
much part of the texture of everyday life for a wide array of nonprofessional 
participants. This is how folk culture operated in an emergent democracy. 

I don't want to turn back the clock to some mythic golden age. Rather, I 
want us to recognize the challenges posed by the coexistence of these two 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 225 

kinds of cultural logic. The kinds of production practices we are discuss- 
ing here were a normal part of American life over this period. They are 
simply more visible now because of the shift in distribution channels for 
amateur cultural productions. If the corporate media couldn't crush this 
vernacular culture during the age when mass media power went largely 
unchallenged, it is hard to believe that legal threats are going to be an 
adequate response to a moment when new digital tools and new networks 
of distribution have expanded the power of ordinary people to participate 
in their culture. Having felt that power, fans and other subcultural groups 
are not going to return to docility and invisibility. They will go farther 
underground if they have to— they've been there before — but they aren't 
going to stop creating. 

This is where McCracken's argument rejoins my own. McCracken argues 
that there is ultimately no schism between the public interest in expanding 
opportunities for grassroots creativity and the corporate interest in pro- 
tecting its intellectual property: "Corporations will allow the public to par- 
ticipate in the construction and representation of its creations or they will, 
eventually, compromise the commercial value of their properties. The new 
consumer will help create value or they will refuse it. . . . Corporations have 
a right to keep copyright but they have an interest in releasing it. The eco- 
nomics of scarcity may dictate the first. The economics of plenitude dictate 
the second." 35 The expanding range of media options, what McCracken calls 
the "economics of plenitude," will push companies to open more space for 
grassroots participation and affiliation — starting perhaps with niche compa- 
nies and fringe audiences but eventually moving toward the commercial and 
cultural mainstream. McCracken argues that those companies that loosen 
their copyright control will attract the most active and committed consum- 
ers, and those that ruthlessly set limits will find themselves with a dwindling 
share of the media marketplace. 36 Of course, this model depends on fans and 
audience members acting collectively in their own interest against compa- 
nies that may tempt them with entertainment that is otherwise tailored to 
their needs. The production companies are centralized and can act in a uni- 
fied manner; fans are decentralized and have no ability to ensure conformity 
within their rights. And so far, the media companies have shown a remark- 
able willingness to antagonize their consumers by taking legal actions against 
them in the face of all economic rationality. This is going to be an uphill fight 
under the best of circumstances. The most likely way for it to come about, 
however, may be to create some successes that demonstrate the economic 
value of engaging the participatory audience. 


Design Your Own Galaxy 

Adopting a collaborationist logic, the creators of massively multiplayer online 
role-playing games (MMORPGs) have already built a more open-ended 
and collaborative relationship with their consumer base. Game designers 
acknowledge that their craft has less to do with prestructured stories than 
with creating the preconditions for spontaneous community activities. Raph 
Koster, the man LucasArts placed in charge of developing Star Wars Galax- 
ies, built his professional reputation as one of the prime architects of Ultima 
Online (1997). He was the author of an important statement of players' rights 
before he entered the games industry, and he has developed a strong design 
philosophy focused on empowering players to shape their own experi- 
ences and build their own communities. Asked to describe the nature of the 
MMORPG, Koster famously explained, "It's not just a game. It's a service, it's 
a world, it's a community" 37 Koster also refers to managing an online com- 
munity, whether a noncommercial MUD or a commercial MMORPG, as an 
act of governance: "Just like it is not a good idea for a government to make 
radical legal changes without a period of public comment, it is often not wise 
for an operator of an online world to do the same." 38 

Players, he argues, must feel a sense of "ownership" over the imaginary 
world if they are going to put in the time and effort needed to make it come 
alive for themselves and for other players. Koster argues, "You can't possi- 
bly mandate a fictionally involving universe with thousands of other people. 
The best you can hope for is a world that is vibrant enough that people act 
in manners consistent with the fictional tenets." 39 For players to participate, 
they must feel that what they bring to the game makes a difference, not only 
in terms of their own experiences but also the experiences of other players. 
Writing about the challenges of meeting community expectations on Ultima 
Online, Koster explains, "They want to shape their space, and leave a lasting 
mark. You must provide some means for them to do so." 40 Richard Bartle, 
another game designer and theorist, agrees: "Self expression is another way 
to promote immersion. By giving players free-form ways to communicate 
themselves, designers can draw them more deeply into the world— they feel 
more of a part of it." 41 

Koster is known as a strong advocate of the idea of giving players room to 
express themselves within the game world: 

Making things of any sort does generally require training. It is rare in any 
medium that the naif succeeds in making something really awesome or 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 227 

popular. By and large it is people who have taught themselves the craft and 
are making conscious choices. But I absolutely favor empowering people 
to engage in these acts of creation, because not only does talent bubble up 
but also economies of scale apply. If you get a large enough sample size, 
you will eventually create something good. 

As Koster turned his attention to developing Star Wars Galaxies, he real- 
ized that he was working with a franchise known in all of its details by hard- 
core fans who had grown up playing these characters with action figures or 
in their backyard and who wanted to see those same fantasies rendered in 
the digital realm. In an open letter to the Star Wars fan community, Koster 
described what he hoped to bring to the project: 

Star Wars is a universe beloved by many. And I think many of you are like 
me. You want to be there. You want to feel what it is like. Even before we 
think about skill trees and about Jedi advancement, before we consider the 
stats on a weapon or the distance to Mos Eisley and where you have to go 
to pick up power converters — you want to just be there. Inhale the sharp 
air off the desert. Watch a few Jawas haggle over a droid. Feel the sun beat 
down on a body that isn't your own, in a world that is strange to you. You 
don't want to know about the stagecraft in those first few moments. You 
want to feel like you are offered a passport to a universe of limitless pos- 
sibility. . . . My job is to try to capture that magic for you, so you have that 
experience." 42 

Satisfying fan interests in the franchise proved challenging. Koster told 
me, "There's no denying it— the fans know Star Wars better than the devel- 
opers do. They live and breathe it. They know it in an intimate way. On the 
other hand, with something as large and broad as the Star Wars universe, 
there's ample scope for divergent opinions about things. These are the things 
that lead to religious wars among fans, and all of a sudden you have to take a 
side because you are going to be establishing how it works in this game." 

To ensure that fans bought into his version of the Star Wars universe, 
Koster essentially treated the fan community as his client team, posting regu- 
lar reports on the web about many different elements of the game's design, 
creating an online forum where potential players could respond and make 
suggestions, ensuring that his staff regularly monitored the online discussion 
and posted back their own reactions to the community's recommendations. 
By comparison, the production of a Star Wars film is shrouded by secrecy. 


Koster compares what he did with the test- screening or focus-group process 
many Hollywood films endure, but the difference is that much of that test- 
ing goes on behind closed doors, among select groups of consumers, and is 
not open to participation by anyone who wants to join the conversation. It 
is hard to imagine Lucas setting up a forum site to preview plot twists and 
character designs with his audience. If he had done so, he would never have 
included Jar Jar Binks or devoted so much screen time to the childhood and 
adolescence of Anakin Skywalker, decisions that alienated his core audience. 
Koster wanted Star Wars fans to feel that they had, in effect, designed their 
own galaxy. 

Games scholars Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler have studied the 
interactions between Koster and his fan community. Koster allowed fans to 
act as "content generators creating quests, missions, and social relationships 
that constitute the Star Wars world," but more importantly, fan feedback "set 
the tone" for the Star Wars culture: 

These players would establish community norms for civility and role play- 
ing, giving the designers an opportunity to effectively create the seeds of 
the Star Wars Galaxies world months before the game ever hit the shelves. 
. . . The game that the designers promised and the community expected 
was largely player- driven. The in-game economy would consist of items 
(e.g., clothing, armor, houses, weapons) created by players with its prices 
also set by players through auctions and player-run shops. Cities and 
towns would be designed by players, and cities' mayors and council leaders 
would devise missions and quests for other players. The Galactic Civil War 
(the struggle between rebels and imperials) would frame the game play, 
but players would create their own missions as they enacted the Star Wars 
saga. In short, the system was to be driven by player interaction, with the 
world being created less by designers and more by players themselves. 43 

Players can adopt the identities of many different alien races, from Jawas 
to Wookiees, represented in the Star Wars universe, assume many different 
professional classes— from pod racers to bounty hunters— and play out many 
different individual and shared fantasies. What they cannot do is adopt the 
identity of any of the primary characters of the Star Wars movies, and they 
have to earn the status of Jedi Knight by completing a series of different in- 
game missions. Otherwise, the fiction of the game world would break down as 
thousands of Han Solos tried to avoid capture by thousands of Boba Fetts. For 
the world to feel coherent, players had to give up their childhood fantasies of 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 229 

being the star and instead become a bit player, interacting with countless other 
bit players, within a mutually constructed fantasy What made it possible for 
such negotiations and collaborations to occur was the fact that they shared a 
common background in the already well-established Star Wars mythology. As 
Squire and Steinkuehler note, "Designers cannot require Jedis to behave con- 
sistently within the Star Wars universe, but they can design game structures 
(such as bounties) that elicit Jedi-like behavior (such as placing a high reward 
on capturing a Jedi which might produce covert action on the part of Jedis)." 44 

Coming full circle, a growing number of gamers are using the sets, props, 
and characters generated for the Star Wars Galaxies game as resources to 
produce their own fan films. In some cases, they are using them to do their 
own dramatic reenactments of scenes from the movie or to create, gasp, their 
own "fan fiction." Perhaps the most intriguing new form of fan cinema to 
emerge from the game world is the so-called Cantina Crawl. 45 In the spirit 
of the cantina sequence in the original Star Wars feature film, the game cre- 
ated a class of characters whose function in the game world is to entertain 
the other players. They were given special moves that allow them to dance 
and writhe erotically if the players hit complex combinations of keys. Teams 
of more than three-dozen dancers and musicians plan, rehearse, and execute 
elaborate synchronized musical numbers: for example, The Gypsies' Christ- 
mas Crawl 1 featured such numbers as "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and 
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"; blue-skinned and tentacle -haired 
dance girls shake their bootie, lizard-like aliens in Santa caps play the sax, 
and guys with gills do boy-band moves while twinkly snowflakes fall all 
around them (fig. 15.3). Imagine what Star Wars would have looked like if 
it had been directed by Lawrence Welk! Whatever aesthetic abuse is taking 
place here, one has to admire the technical accomplishment and social coor- 
dination that goes into producing these films. Once you put creative tools in 
the hands of everyday people, there's no telling what they are going to make 
with them — and that's a large part of the fun. 

Xavier, one of the gamers involved in producing the Cantina Crawl vid- 
eos, would turn the form against the production company, creating a series 
of videos protesting corporate decisions which he felt undermined his 
engagement with the game. Ultimately, Xavier produced a farewell video 
announcing the mass departure of many loyal fans. The fan-friendly poli- 
cies Koster created had eroded over time, leading to increased player frustra- 
tion and distrust. Some casual players felt the game was too dependent on 
player-generated content, while the more creative players felt that upgrades 
actually restricted their ability to express themselves and marginalized the 


Fig. 15.3. Each character in this musical number from 
The Gypsies' Christmas Crawl 1, made using the Star 
Wars Galaxies game, is controlled by a separate player. 

Entertainer class from the overall experience. At the same time, the game 
failed to meet the company's own revenue expectations, especially in the face 
of competition from the enormously successful World ofWarcraft. 

In December 2005, the company announced plans to radically revamp 
the game's rules and content, a decision that resulted in massive defections 
without bringing in many new customers. A statement made by Nancy 
Maclntyre, the game's senior director at LucasArts, to the New York Times 
illustrates the huge shift in thinking from Koster's original philosophy to this 
"retooled" franchise: 

We really just needed to make the game a lot more accessible to a much 
broader player base. There was lots of reading, much too much, in the 
game. There was a lot of wandering around learning about different abili- 
ties. We really needed to give people the experience of being Han Solo or 
Luke Skywalker rather than being Uncle Owen, the moisture farmer. We 
wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to 
give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in 
the movies rather than something they had created themselves. 46 

Over a concise few sentences, Maclntyre had stressed the need to simplify 
the content, had indicated plans to recenter the game around central char- 
acters from the films rather than a more diverse range of protagonists, had 
dismissed the creative contributions of fans, and had suggested that Star Wars 
Galaxies would be returning to more conventional game mechanics. This 
"retooling" was the kind of shift in policy without player input that Koster had 
warned might prove fatal to these efforts. Thanks to the social networks that 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 231 

fans have constructed around the game, soon every gamer on the planet knew 
that Maclntyre had called her players idiots in the New York Times, and many 
of them departed for other virtual worlds which had more respect for their 
participation— helping, for example, to fuel the early growth of Second Life. 

Where Do We Go from Here? 

It is too soon to tell whether these experiments in consumer- generated 
content will have an influence on the mass media companies. In the end, it 
depends on how seriously, if at all, we should take their rhetoric about enfran- 
chising and empowering consumers as a means of building strong brand 
loyalties. For the moment, the evidence is contradictory: for every franchise 
which has reached out to court its fan base, there are others that have fired 
out cease-and-desist letters. As we confront the intersection between cor- 
porate and grassroots modes of convergence, we shouldn't be surprised that 
neither producers nor consumers are certain what rules should govern their 
interactions, yet both sides seem determined to hold the other accountable 
for their choices. The difference is that the fan community must negotiate 
from a position of relative powerlessness and must rely solely on its collective 
moral authority, while the corporations, for the moment, act as if they had 
the force of law on their side. 

Ultimately, the prohibitionist position is not going to be effective on any- 
thing other than the most local level unless the media companies can win 
back popular consent; whatever lines they draw are going to have to respect 
the growing public consensus about what constitutes fair use of media con- 
tent and must allow the public to participate meaningfully in their own cul- 
ture. To achieve this balance, the studios are going to have to accept (and 
actively promote) some basic distinctions: between commercial competition 
and amateur appropriation, between for-profit use and the barter economy 
of the web, between creative repurposing and piracy. 

Each of these concessions will be hard for the studios to swallow but 
necessary if they are going to exert sufficient moral authority to rein in the 
kinds of piracy that threaten their economic livelihood. On bad days, I don't 
believe the studios will voluntarily give up their stranglehold on intellectual 
property. What gives me some hope, however, is the degree to which a col- 
laborationist approach is beginning to gain some toehold within the media 
industries. These experiments suggest that media producers can garner 
greater loyalty and more compliance to legitimate concerns if they court the 
allegiance of fans; the best way to do this turns out to be giving them some 


stake in the survival of the franchise, ensuring that the provided content 
more fully reflects their interests, creating a space where they can make their 
own creative contributions, and recognizing the best work that emerges. In 
a world of ever-expanding media options, there is going to be a struggle for 
viewers the likes of which corporate media has never seen before. Many of 
the smartest folks in the media industry know this: some are trembling, and 
others are scrambling to renegotiate their relationships with consumers. In 
the end, the media producers need fans just as much as fans need them. 


i. AtomFilms, "Internet Users Are Makin Wookiee! ," press release, April 23, 1999. 

2. Chris Albrecht, personal interview, July 2005. 

3. For more discussion of fans and new media, see Henry Jenkins, "The Poachers 
and the Stormtroopers: Cultural Convergence in the Digital Age," in Philippe Le Guern, 
ed., Les cultes mediatiques: Culture fan et oeuvres cultes (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de 
Rennes, 2002). 

4. Paul Clinton, "Filmmakers Score with Lucas in Love", June 24, 1999, 

5. Josh Wolk, "Troop Dreams," Entertainment Weekly, March 20, 1998, pp. 8-9. 

6. Manuel Castells, on p. 201 of The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, 
and Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), defines "interactivity" as "the ability 
of the user to manipulate and affect his experience of media directly and to communicate 
with others through media." I prefer to separate out the two parts of this definition — so 
that "interactivity" refers to the direct manipulation of media within the technology, and 
"participation" refers to the social and cultural interactions that occur around media. 

7. Grant McCracken, "The Disney TM Danger," in Plenitude (self-published, 1998), p. 5. 

8. Lawrence Lessig, "Keynote from OSCON 2002," August 15, 2002, accessed at http:// 

9. Clinton, "Filmmakers Score with Lucas in Love? 

10. The site is described here as it existed in 2000, at the time this essay was first 
written. As of 2004, Mather continued to be productive, and the site hosted more than 
forty-eight digital films. Much of his recent work has taken him far afield from Star Wars, 
showing how his early fan work has paved the way for a much more varied career. 

11. "When Senators Attack IV" (Ryan Mannion and Daniel Hawley),, 
(accessed July 1, 2011). 

12. Patricia R. Zimmermann, Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film (Bloom- 
ington: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 157. 

13. Clinton, "Filmmakers Score with Lucas in Love? 

14. "A Word from Shane Felux," TheForce.Net, 
ingsoon/revelations/director.asp; Clive Thompson, "May the Force Be with You, and You, 
and You . . . : Why Fans Make Better Star Wars Movies Than George Lucas," Slate, April 
29, 2005, 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 233 

15- Kevin Kelly and Paula Parisi, "Beyond Star Wars," Wired, February 1997, http:// 
www.wired.eom/wired/archive/5.02/fflucas. html (accessed July i, 2011). 

16. Clay Kronke, Director's Note, The New World,, February 2000, http:// 
web. archive. org/web/20ooo8i6i50oi9/ 
world/director_newworld.shtml (accessed July 1, 2011). 

17. Duel (Mark Thomas and Dave Macomber), no longer online. 

18. Mark Magee, "Every Generation Has a Legend,", June 15, 2005, http://web. 
archive. org/web/2005o6i5o8245i/ html (accessed 
July 1, 2011). 

19. Probot Productions, no longer online. 

20. Coury Turczyn, "Ten Minutes with the Robot Chicken Guys," G4, February 17, 2005, 
Guys.html. See also Henry Jenkins, "Ode to Robot Chicken" Confessions of an Aca-Fan 
(blog), June 20, 2006, 

21. Henry Jenkins, "So What Happened to Star Wars Galaxies?" Confessions of an Aca- 
Fan (blog), July 21, 2006, 

22. Chris Albrecht, personal interview, July 2005. 

23. Amy Harmon, "Star Wars Fan Films Come Tumbling Back to Earth," New York 
Times, April 28, 2002. 

24. Will Brooker, Using the Force: Creativity, Community and Star Wars Fans (New York: 
Continuum, 2002), pp. 164-171. 

25. For a fuller discussion, see Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and 
Participatory Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 30-32. 

26. Fan Fiction on the Net, com:8o/ksnicholas/fanfic/index.html. 

27. Janelle Brown, "Fan Fiction on the Line,", August 11, 1997, http://web. 
archive. 0rg/web/i999iii7O55842/http://www. story/5934, 
html (accessed July 1, 2011). 

28. Brooker, Using the Force, p. 167. 

29. David R. Phillips, "The 500-Pound Wookiee," Echo Station, August 1, 1999, http:// 

30. Richard Jinman, "Star Wars," Australian Magazine, June 17, 1995, pp. 30-39. 

31. Homestead statement, official Star Wars home page, as quoted by Elizabeth Durack, 
"fans. starwars. con," Echo Station, March 12, 2000, 

32. Durack, "fans. starwars. con." 

33. AtomFilms, "The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards," no longer online. 

34. McCracken, Plenitude, p. 84. 

35. Ibid., p. 85. 

36. For an interesting essay that contrasts Peter Jackson's efforts to court Lord of the 
Rings fans with the more commercially oriented approach to fandom surrounding Star 
Wars, see Elana Shefrin, "Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Participatory Fandom: Mapping 
New Congruencies between the Internet and Media Entertainment Culture," Critical Stud- 
ies in Media Communication, September 2004, pp. 261-281. 

37. Raph Koster, "CGDC Presentation: The Rules of Online World Design," 1999, 


38. Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Raph Koster come from a personal inter- 
view with the author conducted in October 2004. 

39. Kurt Squire, "Interview with Raph Koster," Joystickwi, November 25, 2000, http:// 

40. Koster, "CGDC Presentation." 

41. Richard A. Bartle, Designing Virtual Worlds (Indianapolis: New Riders, 2004), p. 

42. Raph Koster, "Letter to the Community," January 8, 2001, http://www.raphkoster. 

43. Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler, "The Genesis of 'Cyberculture': The Case 
of Star Wars Galaxies" in Donna Gibbs and Kerri-Lee Krause, eds., Cyberlines: Languages 
and Cultures of the Internet (Albert Park, Australia: James Nicholas, 2000). See also Kurt 
Squire, "Star Wars Galaxies: A Case Study in Participatory Design," Joystickioi, July 20, 
2001, http://web. archive. org/web/2002020ii9495i/ 
story&sid=20oi/7/i4/i82o8/3248 (accessed July 1, 2011). 

44. Squire and Steinkuehler, "The Genesis of 'Cyberculture.'" For another interest- 
ing account of fan creativity within Star Wars Galaxies, see Douglas Thomas, "Before 
the Jump to Lightspeed: Negotiating Permanence and Change in Star Wars Galaxies" 
presented at the Creative Gamers Conference, University of Tampiere, Tampiere, Finland, 
January 2005. 

45. 1 am indebted to Doug Thomas for calling this phenomenon to my attention. 
Thomas writes about cantina musicals and other forms of grassroots creativity in "Before 
the Jump to Lightspeed." 

46. Seth Schiesel, "For Online Star Wars Game, It's Revenge of the Fans," New York 
Times, December 10, 2005. 

Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars? 235 


Gin, Television, and Social Surplus 


I was recently reminded of something I read in college, way back in 
the last century, by a British historian who argued that the critical technology 
for the early phase of the Industrial Revolution was gin. The transformation 
from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing 
society could do to cope was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The 
stories from that era are amazing: there were gin pushcarts working their way 
through the streets of London. And it wasn't until society woke up from that 
collective bender that we actually started to create the institutional structures 
that we associate with the Industrial Revolution today. Things such as pub- 
lic libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected 
leaders didn't happen until the presence all of those people together stopped 
being perceived as a crisis and started seeming like an asset. It wasn't until 
people started thinking of this as a vast civic surplus that they could design 
for, rather than just dissipate, that we started to get what we now think of as 
an industrial society. 

If I had to pick the critical technology for the twentieth century, the bit 
of social lubricant without which the wheels would have come off the whole 
enterprise, I would say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World 
War, a whole series of things happened, including rising GDP per capita, 
rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy, and, critically, a rising 
number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, 
society forced an enormous number of its citizens to manage something they 
had never had to manage before — free time. What did we do with that free 
time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. 

We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan's 
Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. 
Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, 
dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to 
overheat. And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, 
that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a 

236 I 

crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, 
to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's 

This hit me in a conversation I had about two months ago. I was being 
interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and 
she asked me, "What are you seeing out there that's interesting?" I started 
telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that 
Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sud- 
den there was a lot of activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people 
are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in a ruckus, ask- 
ing, "How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" A little bit 
at a time they move the article— fighting offstage all the while— from stating 
that "Pluto is the ninth planet" to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd- 
shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system." 1 

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to have a conver- 
sation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't her 
question. She heard this story, and she shook her head and said, "Where do 
people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. 
And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know 
where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been 
masking for fifty years." How big is that surplus? If you take Wikipedia as 
a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project — every page, every edit, 
every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists 
in — that represents something like the cumulation of one hundred million 
hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; 
it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, 
about one hundred million hours of thought. 

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the United 
States alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 
two thousand Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put 
still another way, in the United States, we spend one hundred million hours 
every weekend just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People who 
ask, "Where do they find the time?" when they look at things like Wikipedia 
don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this collec- 
tive asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim O'Reilly calls an archi- 
tecture of participation. 2 

Now, the interesting thing about this kind of surplus is that society doesn't 
know what to do with it at first — hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. If people 
knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institu- 

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus 237 

tions, then it wouldn't be a surplus, would it? It's precisely when no one has 
any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting 
with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that inte- 
gration can transform society 

The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase 
I think we're still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much 
more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know 
all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there's an 
interesting community over here, there's an interesting sharing model over 
there, those people are collaborating on open-source software. But despite 
knowing the inputs, we can't predict the outputs yet because there's so much 

The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and 
lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails, fails informatively so 
that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you're going. That's 
the phase we're in now. 

I will just pick one small example, one I'm in love with. A couple of weeks 
ago one of my students at New York University's Interactive Telecommu- 
nications Program forwarded me a project started by a professor in Brazil, 
in Fortaleza, named Vasco Furtado. It's a Wiki map for crime in Brazil. 3 If 
there's an assault, burglary, mugging, robbery, rape, or murder, you can go 
and put a push-pin on a Google map; you can characterize the assault, and 
you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring. 

This already exists as tacit information. Anybody who knows a town has 
some sense of this street knowledge: "Don't go there. That street corner is 
dangerous. Don't go in this neighborhood. Be careful there after dark." It's 
something society knows without society really knowing it, which is to 
say there's no public source where you can take advantage of it. And if the 
cops have that information, they are certainly not sharing. In fact, one of 
the things Furtado says in starting the Wiki crime map is, "This information 
may or may not exist someplace in society, but it's actually easier for me to 
try to rebuild it from scratch than to try and get it from the authorities who 
might have it now." 

Maybe this will succeed or maybe it will fail. The normal case of social 
software is still failure; most of these experiments don't pan out. But the 
ones that do are quite incredible, and I hope that this one succeeds. Even if 
it doesn't, it's illustrated the point already, which is that someone working 
alone, with really cheap tools, has a reasonable hope of carving out enough 
of the cognitive surplus, the desire to participate, and the collective goodwill 


of the citizens to create a resource you couldn't have imagined existing even 
five years ago. 

That's the answer to the question, "Where do they find the time?" Or, 
rather, that's the numerical answer. Beneath that question was another 
thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversa- 
tion with the TV producer, I talked about World of Warcraft guilds. As I was 
talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: "Losers. Grown men sit- 
ting in their basement pretending to be elves." 

At least they're doing something. 

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off 
the island, and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. 
I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. Every half hour that I watched 
that was a half an hour I wasn't posting to my blog, editing Wikipedia, or 
contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing 
those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into 
the channel of media the way it was, because it was the only option. Now it's 
not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement 
and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it is worse 
to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter. I'm 
willing to raise that to a general principle: it's better to do something than 
to do nothing. Even LOLcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter 
with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. 
One of the things a LOLcat says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif 
fonts on your computer, you can play this game too." That message—'! can 
do that, too" — is a big change. 

This is something that people in the media world don't understand. Media 
in the twentieth century was run as a single race of consumption. How much 
can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more, and, 
if so, can you consume more? The answer to that question has generally been 
yes. In actuality, media is a triathlon; it's three different events. People like to 
consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share. 

What's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the pre- 
vious society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interest- 
ing, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to 
produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer. It doesn't mean that 
we'll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch; it just means 
we'll do it less. 

The cognitive surplus we're talking about is so large that even a small 
change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99 

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus 239 

percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they 
used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. 
The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV 
a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. TV consumption. 
One percent of that is one hundred Wikipedia projects per year worth of 

I think that's going to be a big deal. Don't you? 

Well, the TV producer did not think this was going to be a big deal; she 
was not digging this line of thought. Her final question to me was essentially, 
"Isn't this all just a fad?" She more-or-less saw it alongside the flagpole-sitting 
of the early twenty-first century: it's fun to go out and produce and share a 
little bit, but then people are going to eventually realize, "This isn't as good as 
doing what I was doing before," and settle down. I made a spirited argument 
that, no, this wasn't the case, that this was in fact a big one-time shift, more 
analogous to the Industrial Revolution than to flagpole-sitting. 

I argued that this isn't the sort of thing society grows out of. It's the sort of 
thing that society grows into. I'm not sure she believed me, in part because 
she didn't want to believe me but also in part because I didn't have the right 
story yet. Now I do. 

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one 
of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching 
a DVD. In the middle of the movie, apropos of nothing, she jumps up off 
the couch and runs around behind the screen. It seems like a cute moment. 
Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. 
That wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. 
Her dad asked her what she was doing, and she stuck her head out from 
behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse." 

Here's something four-year-olds know: a screen that ships without a 
mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: media that is 
targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. 
Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Four- 
year-olds, who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who 
won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to 
unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, just assume that media 
includes consuming, producing, and sharing. 

This has also become my motto, when people ask me what we are doing — 
and when I say "we," I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to 
deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, the people who are work- 
ing hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea — I'm going to tell 


them: We're looking for the mouse. We're going to look at every place that a 
reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served 
up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve 
out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a 
good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes. 


This chapter was originally published on April 26, 2008 on, at (accessed July 
17, 2010); based on a speech given at the Web 2.0 conference, April 23, 2008. This chapter 
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. 

1. See "Talk: Pluto/Archive 2," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.0rg/wiki/Talk:Pluto/ 
Archive_2#Requested_Move (accessed July 17, 2010); and "Talk: Pluto/Archive 5," Wikipe- 
dia, http://en.wikipedia.0rg/wiki/Talk:Pluto/Archive_5 (accessed July 17, 2010). 

2. Tim O'Reilly, "The Architecture of Participation," O'Reilly About, June 2004, http:// 
oreilly.eom/pub/a/oreilly/tim/articles/architecture_of_participation. html (accessed July 17, 

3. WikiCrimes, (accessed July 17, 2010). Site now includes 
worldwide statistics. 

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus 241 


Between Democracy and Spectacle 

The Front-End and Back-End of the Social Web 


As more of our data, and the programs to manipulate and com- 
municate this data, move online, there is a growing tension between the 
dynamics on the front-end (where users interact) and on the back-end (to 
which the owners have access). If we look at the front-end, the social media 
of Web 2.0 may well advance semiotic democracy, that is, "the ability of users 
to produce and disseminate new creations and to take part in public cul- 
tural discourse." 1 However, if we consider the situation from the back-end, 
we can see the potential for Spectacle 2.0, where new forms of control and 
manipulation, masked by a mere simulation of involvement and participa- 
tion, create the contemporary version of what Guy Debord called "the heart 
of the unrealism of the real society." 2 Both of these scenarios are currently 
being realized. How these relate to one another, and which is dominant in 
which situation and for which users, is not yet clear and is likely to remain 
highly flexible. The social meaning of the technologies is not determined by 
the technologies themselves; rather, it will be shaped and reshaped by how 
they are embedded into social life, advanced, and transformed by the myriad 
of individual actors, large institutions, practices, and projects that constitute 
contemporary reality. 

Unfortunately, much of the current analysis focuses primarily on the 
front-end and thus paints an overly Utopian and very one-sided picture. 
There are, of course, critical analyses that focus on the back-end, yet they also 
paint a very one-sided picture of technological dominance. 3 Both of these 
are characterized by extensive biases which are the result of two very com- 
mon, if unacknowledged, assumptions. In a nutshell, the first one could be 
stated like this: all forms of social life involve communication; thus, changes 
in communication (technology) directly affect all forms of social life. This 
idea, first advanced by Marshall McLuhan in the early 1960s, has been a fre- 
quent theme in the techno-utopian (and dystopian) perspective ever since. 


Rather than considering how social actors are able to appropriate new tech- 
nologies to advance their existing, material agendas, the changes in the orga- 
nization of the digital are taken to be so powerful that they simply impact on 
the material reality Understanding the properties of the new modes of com- 
munication provides a privileged vantage point from which to understand a 
broad range of social transformations. Thus, the vectors of change are unidi- 
rectional. Such an analysis presents a simple dichotomy between the old and 
new, with the new replacing the old. 4 

The other very common assumption could be stated like this: conflicts are 
the result of miscommunication and a lack of information about the other 
side. Thus, improved communication leads to cooperation. This could well 
be the oldest Utopian promise of communication technology. Just two years 
before the outbreak of World War I, Marconi famously predicted that his 
invention, radio, "will make war impossible, because it will make war ridic- 
ulous." 5 Today, building on the fact that it is individuals who have a vastly 
increased array of communication technologies at their disposal, this second 
assumption has inspired a new wave of communitarianism, envisioned as a 
blossoming of bottom-up, voluntary communities. This provides the current 
discourse with a particular populist character, different from earlier manifes- 
tations of techno-utopianism which focused on the technocratic elite's 6 influ- 
ential vision of the postindustrial society. Yet, like these, it is the result of a 
rather linear extension of a technological property into the social. This time, 
the focus lies on the fact that in the realm of the digital, sharing means mul- 
tiplying, rather than dividing as it does with respect to material goods. Since 
digital data is nonrivalrous, the social relationships mediated by the digital 
are assumed to exhibit a similar tendency 7 

At its best, such a perspective is perceptive to early changes in the modes 
of social communication. Yet these two underlying assumptions limit our 
ability to understand the issues necessary to turn the semiotic possibilities 
into democratic ones. A case in point for the current, Utopian discourse is 
Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, widely lauded in the blogosphere as 
a "masterpiece," 8 because it expresses elegantly the widely shared beliefs 
within this community. His central claim, memorably phrased, is that "we 
are used to a world where little things happen for love, and big things hap- 
pen for money. . . . Now, though, we can do big things for love." 9 Before the 
massive adoption of digital social tools, the projects that could be realized 
without need for money were necessarily small, because only a small num- 
ber of people could cooperate informally. Any bigger effort required a for- 
mal organization (business, government, NGO, or other), which created an 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 243 

overhead requiring funding, which, in turn, required an even more formal 
type of organization capable of raising and managing those funds. In other 
words, the act of organization itself, even of unpaid volunteers, was a com- 
plex and expensive task. It is supposed to have dramatically changed. Now, 
even large group efforts are no longer dependent on the existence of a formal 
organization, with its traditionally high overheads. Shirky argues that we can 
now organize a new class of interests, in a radically new way, that are "valu- 
able to someone but too expensive to be taken on in any institutional way, 
because the basic and unsheddable costs of being an institution in the first 
place make those activities not worth pursuing." 10 

The technologies that allow love to scale are all easy to use by now: e-mail, 
web forums, blogs, wikis, and open publication platforms such as Blogger, 
Flickr, and YouTube. But that is precisely the point. Only now that they are 
well understood, and can be taken for granted, are they beginning to unfold 
their full social potential. For Shirky, what distinguishes Web 2.0 from Web 1.0 
is less functionality than accessibility. What only geeks could do ten to fifteen 
years ago, everybody can do today (in Shirky's world, the digital divide has 
been closed, even though at the moment only 60 percent of US households 
have broadband). 11 The empowering potential of these tools is being felt now, 
precisely because they allow everyone— or, more precisely, every (latent) group 
to organize itself without running into limits of scale. These newly organizable 
groups create "postmanagerial organizations," based on ad hoc coordination of 
a potentially large number of volunteers with very low overheads. 

For Shirky, organizing without organizations has become much easier for 
three reasons. First, failure is cheap. If all it takes is five minutes to start a 
new blog, there is little risk involved in setting one up. Indeed, it's often eas- 
ier to try something out than to evaluate its chances beforehand. This invites 
experimentations which sometimes pay off. If a project gains traction, there 
is no ceiling to limit its growth. There is little structural difference between a 
blog read by ten or ten thousand people. Second, since everyone can publish 
their own material, it is comparatively easy for people with common inter- 
ests to find each other. Trust is quickly established, based on everyone's pub- 
lished track record. Perhaps most importantly, it takes only a relatively small 
number of highly committed people to create a context where large numbers 
of people who care only a little can act efficiently, be it that they file a single 
bug report, do a small edit on a wiki, contribute a few images, or donate a 
small sum to the project. The result is an explosion of social cooperation, 
ranging from simple data sharing, or social cooperation within the domain 
of the digital, to full-blown collective action in the material world. 


So far so good. Things get more complicated when the focus shifts 
beyond the digital. Despite correctly pointing out that "communication tools 
don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring," 12 Shirky 
remains squarely focused on them, linearly extending their properties into 
the social. Hence, he has no doubt that we are witnessing nothing short of a 
social revolution that "cannot be contained in the institutional structure of 
society" 13 The explosion of voluntary projects is taken to amount to the ero- 
sion of the power differentials between formally and informally organized 
interests or, more generally, between conventional organizations following 
strategic interests and people following authentic interests, a.k.a. love. "This 
is," as Shirky concludes, "leading to an epochal change." 14 

The characteristic limitations of this type of analysis are present in the 
four assertions that run through the book: First, voluntary user contribu- 
tions are, indeed, expressions of authentic personal opinions ("love") with no 
connection to institutional agendas ("money"). Second, there is a free mar- 
ket of ad hoc communities where institutions play no role. Third, this is a 
world beyond economics. And, finally, (virtually) all forms of cooperation 
are beneficial. 

Can Money Buy Love? 

Over the last decades, trust in mass media has declined. It is widely seen 
as biased and in the hands of special interests. In January 2004, this trust 
dipped for good below 50 percent in the United States. 15 New modes of com- 
munication can be less institutional and commercial and are often perceived 
as more authentic (at least as far as one's preferred info-niche is concerned). 
After all, if someone is not making money or following orders, why should 
she publish anything other than her own opinion derived from a personal 
interest in the topic? However, it is clear by now that this is not always the 
case. What appears to be authentic, user-generated content often turns out to 
be part of a (viral) marketing campaign, a public-relations strategy, or other 
organized efforts by hidden persuaders. One of the first famous cases of a 
company hiding behind a fictional "user" in a social platform was the case 
of lonely girli5. In June 2006, a teenage girl started to post intriguing entries 
about herself on YouTube, quickly building up enormous popularity. About 
three months later, it was revealed that the girl was a scripted character por- 
trayed by a New Zealand actress, professionally produced by a young com- 
pany trying to break into the entertainment industry 16 Whether this should 
be understood as a hoax or interactive entertainment is beside the point. 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 245 

More important is the fact that it is easy to pass off institutional contribu- 
tions as personal ones. Editors of the "letters section" in newspapers have 
known this for a long time. 

A similar problem occurs on Wikipedia, where many entries are modi- 
fied by affected parties with strategic goals and no commitment to the "neu- 
tral point of view." The enormous popularity of the encyclopedia means 
that every PR campaign now pays attention to it. The same holds true in 
the blogosphere, where conflicts of interests, or direct sponsorship, often 
remain unacknowledged or willfully hidden. The strategies and effects of 
astroturfing (the faking of grassroots involvement by paid operatives) on 
the social web are different from case to case. Wikipedia, which has a very 
strong community dedicated to fighting such abuse (in part with help of 
custom-made tools such as WikiScanner), has an impressive track record 
of weeding out drastic and clumsy interventions, although the exact num- 
ber of persistent, subtle interventions remains structurally unknowable. 
Extreme cases of blogola (pay for play on blogs) are uncovered through 
distributed, ad hoc coordinated research (like the one that revealed the real 
story of lonelygirlis), but there are many mundane cases that never attract 
enough eyeballs. Indeed, by focusing a lot of attention on one particular 
case, a large number of others will necessarily be ignored. The problem 
is endemic enough for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to propose 
an update of its 1980 guidelines "for editorials and testimonials in ads" to 
clarify how companies can court bloggers to write about their products. 17 
Whether such regulation based on the old advertisement model can be 
effective is far from clear. 

A more open practice of how business can reframe new forms of free 
cooperation is advanced as "crowdsourcing." In this context, "free" is under- 
stood as in "free beer," not "free speech" (to turn Richard Stallmans famous 
definition of "free software" on its head). In the Wired article which popular- 
ized the term, the very first example serves to illustrate how much cheaper 
user-generated (rather than professional) stock photography is for a large 
institutional client and how much money the founders of the mediating plat- 
form made by selling their service to the worlds largest photo agency (cre- 
ated from the fortune of a very nondigital oil dynasty). 18 In refreshing clarity, 
it is celebrated that one side (business and institutions) can make or save lots 
of money, whereas the other side (the individual amateurs) do not, since for 
them, as Howe generously grants, "an extra $130 [per year] does just fine." 19 
Continuing in this vein, he arrives at the logical conclusion: 


For the last decade or so, companies have been looking overseas, to India 
or China, for cheap labor. But now it does not matter where the laborers 
are — they might be down the block, they might be in Indonesia — as long as 
they are connected to the network . . . Hobbyists, part-timers, and dabblers 
suddenly have a market for their efforts, as smart companies in industries as 
disparate as pharmaceuticals and television discover ways to tap the latent 
talent of the crowd. The labor isn't always free, but it costs a lot less than pay- 
ing traditional employees. It's not outsourcing; it's crowdsourcing. 20 

It's a bit of a confused statement since corporate outsourcing was already 
dependent on network connectivity (think of call centers in India), and the 
economic "market" for the crowd is admittedly minute. However, the main 
point is clear: there is now an even cheaper labor pool than China's, pos- 
sibly right around the corner and highly educated. It is a strange economy 
in which one side is in it more for play, and the other only for money. Howe 
cannot explain how social and economic dimensions relate to one another, 
even when given the longer length of his follow-up book, 21 but he is very 
clear on how good this can be for corporations. Part of why this works so 
well for institutions is that the high turnover rate in the crowd masks the 
high burnout rate. This is one of the reasons why the size of the community 
matters, because with a larger community, any one individual matters less. 
Thus, what is sustainable on a systemic level (where the institutions operate) 
turns out to be unsustainable on the personal level (where the users operate). 

But not all is bad. A constructive redrawing of the boundaries between 
community and commercial dynamics is taking place in the free and open- 
source software (FOSS) movement. Over the past decade, complex and 
mostly productive relationships between companies and FOSS projects have 
been created. Today, most of the major projects are supported by one or 
often multiple commercial companies. They directly and indirectly fund and 
staff foundations which serve the community of programmers; they donate 
resources or employ key developers. Today, up to 85 percent of Linux kernel 
developers are paid for their work. 22 This has led to a professionalization of 
these projects, with results ranging from better-quality management to more 
predictable release cycles and better-managed turnover of key staff. Thanks to 
legally binding software licenses — the GPLv2 in the case of the Linux kernel — 
and a growing understanding of the particulars of relationships between com- 
panies and communities, the overall effect of the influx of money into labors 
of love has been to strengthen, rather than weaken, the FOSS movement. 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 247 

On the level of individual contributions to cooperative efforts, we are see- 
ing complex and new ways in which the domain of "money" is enmeshed 
with the domain of "love." Positioning the two as mutually exclusive reminds 
one of the nineteenth-century conception of the private as the sphere of har- 
mony independent of the competitive world of the economy Rather, we need 
to develop an understanding of which forms of enmeshing are productive for 
the realization of semiotic democracy, and which social arrangements and 
institutional frameworks can promote them; at the same time, we need to 
take precautions against the negative forms of strategic interventions that are 
leading to the creation of Spectacle 2.0. This would also help to address the 
second major limitation of the Web 2.0 discourse. 

The Institutional Side of Ad Hoc 

The social web enables astonishingly effective yet very lightly organized 
cooperative efforts on scales previously unimaginable. However, this is only 
half of the story; this is the half of the story which plays out on the front- 
end. We cannot understand the full story if we do not take into account the 
other half, which play out on the back-end. New institutional arrangements 
make these ad hoc efforts possible in the first place. There is a shift in the 
location of the organizational intelligence away from the individual orga- 
nization toward the provider of the infrastructure. It is precisely because 
so much organizational capacity resides now in the infrastructure that 
individual projects do not need to (re)produce this infrastructure and thus 
appear to be lightly organized. If we take the creation of voluntary com- 
munities and the provision of new infrastructures as the twin dimensions 
of the social web, we can see that the phenomenon as a whole is character- 
ized by two contradictory dynamics. One is decentralized, ad hoc, cheap, 
easy to use, community oriented, and transparent. The other is centralized, 
based on long-term planning, very expensive, difficult to run, corporate, 
and opaque. If the personal blog symbolizes one side, the data center repre- 
sents the other. All the trappings of conventional organizations, with their 
hierarchies, formal policies, and orientation toward money, which are sup- 
posed to be irrelevant on the front-end, are dominant on the back-end. 
Their interactions are complex, in flux, and hard to detect form the outside. 
Sometimes, though, a glitch reveals some aspects, like a deja vu in the film 
The Matrix. One such revealing glitch was triggered by the Dutch photog- 
rapher Maartin Dors. One day, one of his photos of Romanian street kids 


was deleted by the hosting platform Flickr. Why? Because it violated a pre- 
viously unknown, unpublished rule against depicting children smoking! 
What is the rationale of this rule? As a spokesperson explained, Flickr and 
its owner, Yahoo!, "must craft and enforce guidelines that go beyond legal 
requirements to protect their brands and foster safe, enjoyable communi- 
ties." 23 Every large Internet company has, and indeed must have, such gate- 
keepers that decide, on their own, if a contribution conflicts with the law, 
corporate policies and interests, and then proceed to remove or block it. 24 
In other words, the ever-increasing usability of the social web and ever- 
decreasing user rights go hand in hand. But the specific balance is con- 
stantly changing, depending on laws and policies and on how much users 
push back to demand certain rights and features. There are many success 
stories. Maartin Dors managed to get his photo back online. But the odds 
are stacked against user vigilance. As Shirky points out well, the dynamics 
of stardom (disproportionate attention is concentrated on a few people or 
cases) operate also in the most distributed communication environments. 25 
Thus, for every famous case of "censorship" that the public rallies against, 
there must be a vast number of cases that affect unskilled users or con- 
tent too unfashionable to ever make it to the limelight. This is a structural 
problem which cannot be solved by individual empowerment, since the 
very fact that attention focuses on one case implies that many others are 
ignored. Thus, there is a tension at the core of the social web created by the 
uneasy (mis)match of the commercial interests that rule the back-end and 
community interests advanced through the front-end. The communities 
are embedded within privately owned environments so that users, usually 
unaware of the problem, are faced with a take-it-or-leave-it decision. There 
is a structural imbalance between the service providers on the one side, 
who have strong incentives to carefully craft the infrastructures to serve 
their goals, and the users on the other side, who will barely notice what is 
going on, given the opacity of the back-end. To believe that competitive 
pressures will lead providers to offer more freedoms is like expecting the 
commercialization of news to improve the quality of reporting. If we are 
interested in realizing the empowering potential of new modes of collabo- 
ration, we need to focus on the relationship between back-end and front- 
end dynamics in order to understand if and where they are conflicting and 
to develop institutional frameworks that can balance the interest of ad hoc 
communities against those of the formally organized actors that support 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 249 

The Surveillance Economy 

If the dynamics on the front-end are a complex mix between community 
and commercial orientations, the dynamics of the back-end are purely busi- 
ness, reflecting the enormous costs of data centers. With a few exceptions, 
user access to this new infrastructure is free of direct costs. This leads to 
claims that in the new information economy everything is free (again, as in 
beer). Of course, there are costs to be offset and money to be made, so Chris 
Anderson points out four models of how this is possible: cross-subsidies 
(as in free phones to sell data and voice services), advertising (like TV and 
radio), "freemium" (basic version is free, advanced version is not), and user 
generation (like Wikipedia). 26 Right now, the dominant model is advertis- 
ing. Google, for example, generates 98 percent of its revenue in this way 27 
In order to attract advertising customers, the platform providers need to 
know as much as possible about the users. In mass media, the weakness of 
a back-channel (the Nielsen box) limited the amount of data the provider 
could gather about the audience. Thus, only very large groups could be tar- 
geted (e.g., the twenty-five- to forty-four-year-old demographic in New York 
City). Online, this is entirely different. Even individuals can be tracked in 
great detail, and groups of any size and characteristics can be dynamically 
aggregated. Every activity online generates a trace that can be gathered and 
compiled, and companies go to great length making sure that traces are gen- 
erated in a manner that they can gather. Google is probably the most aggres- 
sive in this area, providing a host of services on its own servers, as well as 
integrating its offers (mainly AdSense and Google Analytics) into indepen- 
dent sites on its users' servers, thus being able to gather user data in both 
locations. 28 Social platforms enable the gathering of highly detailed data 
about individual and group interests in real time, particularly when com- 
bined with other data sources (which is standard, since most Web 2.0 plat- 
forms are owned by or cooperate with large media conglomerates, e.g., via 
APIs, application programming interfaces). The extent, the precision, and 
the speed of this data gathering is unprecedented. In this framework, user 
profiles are the real economic asset, and an asset which Google exploits with 
great success (Google does not sell the profiles directly but, rather, sells the 
ability to customize advertisements based off these profiles). Because of the 
business model chosen, the back-end doubles as a surveillance infrastruc- 
ture with the expressive aim of social sorting, that is, of differentiating the 
treatment of people according to criteria opaque to them. 29 Improvement of 
services and advertisement are the overt goals, but the knowledge which is 


thus created is not limited to such uses. In November 2008, Google launched 
a new application called Google Flu Trends. It is based on "a close relation- 
ship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many 
people actually have flu symptoms. Some search queries tend to be popular 
exactly when flu season is happening, and are therefore good indicators of flu 
activity" 30 This allows Google to track the outbreak of the flu with only one- 
day lag time, roughly two weeks ahead of the US Centers for Disease Control 
and Prevention (CDC). 31 The laudable aim is to be able to detect early, and 
to be able to intervene in, the outbreak of epidemics. Yet there is no reason 
to assume that similar modeling techniques need be limited to public health 
issues. The range of emergent social phenomena that can be detected and 
intervened in early is wide, and the pressures to make use of this knowledge 
are significant. Yet the private and opaque character of the back-end makes 
this information accessible (and actionable) to only a very small number of 
very large institutions. 

For commercial platforms, advertisement seems the only business model 
for now. Amassing very large amounts of data to improve services and adver- 
tiser relationships is the logical consequence of this. This data is the basis on 
which social work done by the users on the front-end — that is, the creation 
and maintenance of their social networks — is turned into financial value at 
the back-end. 32 Yet, beyond economics, there can be no doubt that real-time 
knowledge of group formation, of changing patterns of collective interests 
and desires, constitutes a new form of general power. Should this power only 
be privately owned and accountable to no more than fast-changing terms of 
service and a given corporations need to maintain a positive public image? 
Current privacy legislation seems ill equipped to deal with these questions, 
focusing still on the data protection of individuals. If we do not find ways to 
address these issues, there is a real danger that the social web, and the enor- 
mous amounts of personal and community data generated, will empower the 
actors with access to the back-end considerably more than those at the front- 
end, thus tipping the balance not in favor of the lightly organized groups but, 
rather, the densely organized groups. 

Cooperation and Conflicts 

While voluntary cooperation appears to be a friendly form of organization, 
the actual experience may differ quite a bit. First, every community produces 
exclusion in the process of creating its identity. Second, the values of the differ- 
ent groups, created through authentic practice, can easily come in conflict with 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 251 

one another once they leave the fractured space of the digital and enter the 
unified space of law and politics. Because of the underlying assumption that 
communication leads to cooperation (and the lofty hopes attached to this pro- 
cess), current discourse is virtually silent on such issues. Shirky mentions only 
one problematic case of cooperation, namely, that of a group of young women 
using a social forum to celebrate anorexia and to offer each other mutual sup- 
port to continue it. Here, it is easy to agree, the cause of the problem is less the 
community itself than the personal, psychological problems of individual con- 
tributors. Yet the case is atypical, because most conflicts emerging from coop- 
eration cannot be remedied by psychological intervention. 

On the contrary. The world of FOSS is often described as a meritocracy 
where the most able programmers rise to the top. While this is, indeed, the 
case, the definition of "capable" is not just a technical one but is also mediated 
through the codes of the community and its constitutive sociability. FOSS 
projects define "capable" in ways that manifestly exclude women. Whereas 15 
percent of all PhDs in computer science are awarded to women, 33 the num- 
ber of female contributors to FOSS projects is around 2 percent. 34 The rea- 
sons are complex, ranging from the gendering of leisure time to the lack of 
role models, but it is clear that more formal rules protect minorities (in this 
case women) while the informality of ad hoc communities allows for social 
biases to run unchecked. Thus, what appears as open, friendly cooperation to 
some may be experienced as a closed and hostile club by others. 

It is not just that the modes of cooperation contain elements of hostility: 
the results of cooperation can fuel conflicts. In one way or the other, the back- 
end is the preferred place to address those systemically Copyright law and 
criminal activity provide two illuminating examples of how these potential 
conflicts have been resolved on the back-end. In practice, the ease of coop- 
eration and sharing often violates the exclusive rights of the owners of cre- 
ations as defined by copyright law. The most radical example is peer-to-peer 
file sharing (strangely enough, the entire subject is ignored by most Web 2.0 
discourse). Also, virtually every other activity that constitutes the social web at 
some point runs up against the problem of copyright regulations. The practice 
of Creative Commons licensing can mitigate some aspects but not all, since it 
covers only a fraction of the available material. Some of the resulting conflicts 
play out on the level of the front-end (where tens of thousands of users are 
being sued for everyday practices), but the real key lies in the architecture of 
the back-end. Software code, as Lessig pointed out, can be much more effective 
than legal code (though legal code is being strengthened, and often in favor 
of the well organized). 35 The surveillance infrastructure, created for business 


purposes, can easily be extended and transformed to discipline users and turn 
free as in free speech into free as in free beer, semiotic democracy into Spec- 
tacle 2.0. From 2007 onward, YouTube, for example, installed extensive back- 
end filtering to monitor content for copyright infringement. A sudden increase 
of content disappearing from the platform was detected in January 2009. As 
the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained, "Thanks to a recent spat 
between YouTube and Warner Music Group, YouTube's Content ID tool is now 
being used to censor lots and lots of videos (previously, Warner just silently 
shared in the advertising revenue for the videos that included a "match" to its 
music)." 36 The scope of semiotic democracy was so significantly reduced that 
the EFF called it "YouTube's Fair Use Massacre." This conflict between social 
intentions of users and the commercial orientations of the owners (and their 
internal conflicts) was mediated through the back-end. Users could do noth- 
ing about it. The second case concerns the "hard question" to which Shirky 
devotes half a page. The cooperative infrastructure of the web is also used for 
full-rage criminal activity, including terrorism. The problem is that on the 
level of network analysis, these activities, people coming together and sharing 
information, are not different from what everyone else does. In order to detect 
such emergent criminal "organizations" and intervene in their activities, the 
same pattern-detection tools that detect flu outbreaks are being used for law- 
enforcement and national-security reasons. Thus, given the conflictive nature 
of social relationships, even if they incorporate some aspects of cooperation, 
and the increasing demands on law enforcement to prevent, rather than solve, 
crime, it is not difficult to see how the centralization of the back-end could 
contribute to the expansion of old-style, state-centered, big-brother surveil- 
lance capacities. 


It would be too easy to contrast the light picture of semiotic democracy with 
a dark one of Spectacle 2.0: social relationships are becoming ever more dis- 
torted by hidden advertisement and other forms manipulation; the grow- 
ing ranks of the creative-industry workers have to compete ever harder for 
work as potential clients learn to exploit free culture and drive down sala- 
ries through crowdsourcing; a gigantic surveillance machine is extending the 
reach of powerful institutions so that they can manipulate emerging social 
phenomena, either intervening before they can reach critical mass or else 
helping them to reach critical mass much sooner, depending on their goals 
and strategies. 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 253 

But the world is not black or white, and neither is it an indiscriminate 
gray. Given the flexibility of the technology and its implementation, it is 
most likely to affect people in highly differentiated ways. These are decided 
by social actors and their conflicting agendas. Rather than placing our hope 
in some immanent quality of the technology, we need to ask urgent ques- 
tions: how can we ensure that community spaces can develop according to 
their own needs and desires, even as strong external (commercial and law- 
enforcement) pressures are exerted on all levels? The FOSS movement, in 
large parts thanks to the ingenuity of the General Public License (GPL), has 
showed that this is possible in many respects. Wikipedia shows how much 
continued and organized effort this takes. How can we ensure that the power 
accumulated at the back-end is managed in a way so that it does not coun- 
teract the distribution of communicative power through the front-end? It 
seems clear that individual terms of service and market competition are not 
enough. A mixture of new legislation and granting public access to back-end 
data will be necessary 37 If we simply ignore this, extending the ideology of 
the free market to communities (competing for sociability), as much of the 
discourse does, we are likely to see that the new infrastructure will enable 
only those whose interests are aligned, or at least do not conflict, with those 
who control the back-end. For others, it could be a future of reduced life 
chances and lost opportunities and connections systematically, yet undetect- 
ably, prevented from even occurring. As a result, we would not have a semi- 
otic but a managed democracy. 


This chapter is based, in part, on my review of Clay Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody: 
Felix Stalder, "Analysis without Analysis" Mute: Culture and Politics after the Net, July 28, 

1. Elisabeth Stark, "Free Culture and the Internet: A New Semiotic Democracy,", June 20, 2006, 

2. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967), trans. Ken Knabb (London: Rebel, 
2006), § 6, 

3. Among the first within this context was Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of 
Cyberspace (New York: Basic Books, 1999); the most prominent recent addition is Jona- 
than Zittrain, The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It (New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 2008). 

4. For a historical critique of such "McLuhanism," see Richard Barbrook, Imaginary 
Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village (London: Pluto, 2007). 


5. Ivan Narodny, "Marconi's Plans for the World," Technical World Magazine, October 
1912, 145-150, available online at 

6. For example, Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post- Industrial Society: A Venture in Social 
Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973). 

7. For a critique of this extension, see Matteo Pasquinelli, Animal Spirits: A Bestiary 
of the Commons (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures; NAi Publishers Matteo, 

8. Cory Doctorow, "Clay Shirky 's Masterpiece: Here Comes Everybody," BoingBoing, 
February 18, 2008, 

9. Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations 
(New York: Penguin, 2008), 104. 

10. Ibid., 11. 

11. Nate Anderson, "US 20th in Broadband Penetration, Trails S. Korea, Estonia," ars 
technica, June 19, 2009, 
broadband-penetration-trails-s-korea-estonia.ars (accessed July 20, 2010). 

12. Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, 105. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Ibid., 304. 

15. Gallup, "Americans More Tuned In Than Ever to Political News: Record Interest 
in Political News Coincides with Record Distrust in Media,", September 22, 


16. Virginia Heffernan and Tom Zeller, "'Lonely Girl' (and Friends) Just Wanted 
Movie Deal," New York Times, September 12, 2006, 

17. Douglas McMillan, "Blogola: The FTC Takes On Paid Posts," Business Week, May 19, 


18. Jeff Howe, "Rise of Crowdsourcing," Wired 14.06 (June 2006), http://wwwwired. 

19. Ibid. 
20. Ibid. 

21. Jeff Howe, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Busi- 
ness (New York: Crown Business, 2008). 

22. Doc Searls, "Is Linux Now a Slave to Corporate Masters?" Linux Journal, April 30, 

23. Anick Jesdanun, "'Public' Online Spaces Don't Carry Speech, Rights,", 
July 7, 2008, (accessed July 20, 2010). 

24. See Jeffrey Rosen, "Google's Gatekeepers," New York Times Magazine, November 28, 

25. Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, 125-137. 

26. Chris Anderson, Free: The Future of a Radical Price: The Economics of Abundance and 
Why Zero Pricing Is Changing the Face of Business (New York: Random House, 2009). 

27. Eric Schmidt, interview with Charlie Rose, March 6, 2009, http://www.charlierose. 

Between Democracy and Spectacle 255 

28. Felix Stalder and Christine Mayer, "The Second Index: Search Engines, Personaliza- 
tion and Surveillance," in Deep Search: The Politics of Search Engines Beyond Google, edited 
by Konrad Becker and Felix Stalder (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009). 

29. See David Lyon, ed., Surveillance as Social Sorting: Privacy, Risk and Automated 
Discrimination (London and New York: Routledge, 2002). 

30. Google, "Google Flu Trends, Frequently Asked Questions," 
about/flutrends/faq.html (accessed July 20, 2010). 

31. Jeremy Ginsberg et al, "Detecting Influenza Epidemics Using Search Engine Query 
Data," Nature 457 (February 19, 2009), http://research. google. com/ archive/papers/detect- 
ing-influenza-epidemics. pdf. 

32. Tiziana Terranova, "Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Global Economy," Social 
Text 18, no. 2 (2000): 33-57, 
ism/voluntary; Trebor Scholz, "What the MySpace Generation Should Know about Work- 
ing for Free," Re-public, 2007, 

33. Ellen Spertus, "What We Can Learn from Computer Science's Differences from 
Other Sciences: Executive Summary: Women, Work and the Academy Conference," 
December 9-10, 2004, 
(accessed July 20, 2010). 

34. Cheekay Cinco, "We Assume FOSS Benefits All Equally: But Does It Really?", February 27, 2406, — e — 
i&x=93204 (accessed July 20, 2010). 

35. Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. 

36. Fred von Lohmann, "YouTube's January Fair Use Massacre," Electronic Frontier 
Foundation Blog, February 3, 2009, 
ary-fair-use-massacre (accessed July 20, 2010). 

37. Bernhard Rieder, "Democratizing Search? From Critique to Society-Oriented 
Design," in Deep Search: The Politics of Search Engines beyond Google, edited by Konrad 
Becker and Felix Stalder (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2009). 



DIY Academy? 

Cognitive Capitalism, Humanist 
Scholarship, and the Digital Transformation 


The University of Michigan Press recently sent me (and other 
authors who have published with the press) an e-mail announcing the debut 
of a "transformative scholarly publishing model," the product of a coopera- 
tive agreement between the Press and the University of Michigan Libraries. 1 
Starting in July 2009, the letter said, all future Michigan publications are to be 
made available "primarily in a range of digital formats," although high-quality 
print-on-demand versions of the e-books are also readily obtainable by book- 
stores, institutions, and individuals. The Press's long-term plans call for books 
to be "digitized and available to libraries and customers world-wide through 
an affordable site-license program," as most academic journals currently are. 
Moreover, these digital books, the communique informed me, will be "can- 
didates for a wide range of audio and visual digital enhancements — including 
hot links, graphics, interactive tables, sound files, 3D animation, and video." 
This announcement by a major academic press is the harbinger of a seismic 
shift in the character of scholarly knowledge production and dissemination. 

Over the past thirty years, the university presses have been pushed by aca- 
demic administrators to act like for-profit publishing ventures rather than 
as facilitators of the professoriate's publishing ambitions in the erstwhile 
Fordist-era university 2 As universities have cut back funding for both the 
presses and tenure-stream faculty appointments, turning increasingly to the 
precarious labor of graduate students and adjuncts to staff their core courses, 
the academic presses have become the de facto arbiters of tenure and promo- 
tion in the increasingly pinched world of the humanities and social sciences. 
The result, as a well-known letter published by Stephen Greenblatt during his 
tenure as president of the Modern Language Association attests, is a crisis in 
scholarly publishing. 3 It has become harder to publish in general and virtu- 
ally impossible to publish books that do not ride the latest wave of theory. 


At the same time, the remorseless creep toward informal labor has made it 
increasingly necessary to crank out books in order to survive in academia. 
The upshot is an increasingly Darwinian world of frenetic competition and 
commodification in which scholars illogically hand over their hard-won 
knowledge virtually for free to presses that then limit the circulation of that 
knowledge through various forms of copyright in order to maintain the pre- 
carious revenue stream that keeps them in business. 

To what extent does digital publishing provide an exit from this dystopian 
world? As Michigan's announcement makes clear, digital publication clearly 
offers exciting possibilities for multimedia, interdisciplinary work. But this 
shift also opens broader vistas. Why should scholars not take publishing out 
of the hands of the academic presses and establish their own online publish- 
ing schemes? Within the sciences there is already a strong trend toward the 
publication of papers in open-access archives. Peer-reviewed, open-access 
journals are beginning to pop up in fields such as cultural studies. With sup- 
port from their institutions or far-seeing not-for-profit foundations, scholars 
could publish and disseminate their own work freely. The potential for sig- 
nificantly democratizing knowledge represented by such developments can- 
not be gainsaid despite the enduring significant inequalities of access to digi- 
tal information within the global North and South. We are, however, a long 
way from such developments becoming the norm. The danger is that the 
earthquake whose first tremors we are currently feeling will take us unawares 
and will make us passive victims rather than the architects of more egalitar- 
ian and socially just forms of learning and communication. There has, after 
all, been relatively little theorization of this tectonic shift in the modes of 
knowledge production and dissemination. 4 When not commandeered by 
progressive movements, technological innovations can all too easily be used 
to exacerbate existing forms of inequality. 

In this essay, I situate discussion of the open-access movement within 
academia in the context of contemporary theories of the knowledge econ- 
omy and immaterial labor. For theorists influenced by the Italian operaismo 
movement, shifts in the production process in advanced capitalist nations 
have produced a massification and commodification of intellectual work 
over the past several decades. 5 Today, the most strategically significant sector 
of the capitalist production process, the one that sets the terms for all other 
sectors, is what operaismo theorists term "immaterial labor"— the produc- 
tion of new software programs, novel social networking technologies, cod- 
ing of genetic materials, and so forth. 6 This increasing commodification of 
knowledge has, however, generated a crippling contradiction: in almost all 


cases, immaterial labor is predicated on collaboration, and yet the continued 
accumulation of capital hinges on the privatization of intellectual-property 
rights. As Michael Hardt puts it, "There is emerging a powerful contradic- 
tion, in other words, at the heart of capitalist production between the need 
for the common in the interest of productivity and the need for the private in 
the interest of capitalist accumulation." 7 

This increasingly heated struggle over the commons reverberates strongly 
within academia since it is a crucial site of contemporary knowledge pro- 
duction. Despite the relative lack of theorization concerning the digital 
transformation of knowledge production and dissemination, my interviews 
with academic publishers and scholars working on issues of digitization and 
access reveal a keen sense of the nascent liberatory opportunities as well as 
the tensions that underlie current developments. Yet the movement for open 
access cannot, I argue, be seen outside broader institutional dynamics within 
academia and the knowledge economy in general. Given the unfolding col- 
lapse of print journalism and the for-profit publishing industry, Panglossian 
celebrations of academia as an incipient rhizomatic social network clearly 
will not do. In fact, as critics such as Michael Denning and Andrew Ross 
have argued, academia offers a vanguard example of the forms of ill-remu- 
nerated and insecure labor that are increasingly common in the knowledge 
economy in general. To what extent is the digital transformation likely to 
extend these dystopian trends rather than to enlarge the space for emanci- 
patory practices? Drawing on the work of theorists such as the Edu-factory 
group, I situate my discussion of new forms of electronic knowledge produc- 
tion and dissemination within the broader terrain of the neoliberal univer- 
sity, thereby offering a hardboiled assessment of the possibilities as well as 
the limits of digital publishing and, more broadly, the DIY academy. 

Digital Scholarship 

Business as usual is over in scholarly publishing. The multifarious trend 
toward academic capitalism discussed in the previous section has also trans- 
formed the channels through which scholars disseminate their research. 
Once upon a time there was a virtuous circle that linked scholars who needed 
to publish their research to well-funded university publishing houses that 
communicated that research to university libraries, which in turn purchased 
the scholarly journals and monographs in which research was published. No 
more. Both private and public universities have cut funding for their publish- 
ing ventures, forcing them to bear considerations of marketability increas- 

DIY Academy? 259 

ingly in mind when accepting projects for publication. Meanwhile, university 
libraries are being gouged by for-profit journal publishers, who have driven 
the cost of subscriptions to journals in the sciences and medicine through 
the roof. NYU s library, for example, spends 25 percent of its budget on jour- 
nals from the European publisher Elsevier-North Holland and another 25 
percent on journals from two or three additional for-profit publishers that 
realize libraries are unlikely to terminate a subscription. 8 Book acquisitions, 
the primary mode of publication for the humanities, are being squeezed out. 
The University of California system spends less than 20 percent of its budget 
on books, for instance, and now often recommends that only one copy of a 
book be purchased throughout the system rather than allowing each campus 
to purchase a copy 9 Finally, the glut of precarious teachers discussed in the 
previous section has allowed administrators to up the ante for tenure and 
promotion at all colleges incessantly, whether or not their institutions host 
an academic press. As a result, the sheer number of scholars seeking to pub- 
lish has multiplied many times over, while funding for presses and libraries 
has been axed. 10 It is increasingly hard for anyone except a small number of 
academic superstars to publish original work in book form. 

The open-access (OA) movement is an emerging response to this crisis 
in academic publishing. 11 Inspired by conceptions of the digital commons 
evident among cognitarian insurgents such as the members of the FLOSS 
movement, scholarly proponents of OA argue that it makes little sense to 
give away hard-won research to publishers for free, only to have such pub- 
lishers limit access to this work through exorbitant publication costs and 
subscription fees that exclude anyone lacking access to a university library 
in the developed world. Online publishing can in many instances be done 
nearly free of cost and very quickly, issues that are of immense concern to 
junior scholars. 12 OA proponents argue that academics want publicity, not 
fees, and that they therefore have little to lose and much to gain by dissemi- 
nating their research online for free. 13 Although humanities scholars have, in 
comparison with those working in the "hard" sciences, been slow to embrace 
OA, protocols developed in the sciences that allow electronic publication of 
preprint copies of papers make it possible to avoid the restrictive copyright 
agreements imposed by both for-profit and university presses. 14 In addition to 
increasing publication outlets, the digitalization also offers notable resources 
for teaching. Rice University's Connexions project and MIT's OpenCourse- 
Ware program both make pedagogical materials available for free online, 
for example. 15 In the case of Connexions, faculty can remix and supplement 
materials available online to create their own unique course packets. 


In addition to such innovations in distribution, digital media have begun 
to transform scholarly production in the humanities. Online publication 
promises to give more recondite subjects greater play, ending the tyranny of 
the market that prevents the publication of arcane scholarly work and that 
sees such work go out of print all too quickly In addition, although the dom- 
inant trend remains to treat online publications simply as what Gary Hall 
calls "prosthetic" extensions of traditional print formats such as the journal 
article and the book chapter, the digital transformation is gradually cata- 
lyzing new forms of research. 16 Journals such as Vectors build articles from 
the ground up to include multiple different media, expanding the scholarly 
palette to include audio and visual as well as print media, 17 shifting the role 
of humanities scholars to include curatorial as well as exegetical functions, 
and auguring radically novel, hybrid disciplinary formations. 18 The possi- 
bilities for scholarly expression are exploding as academics experiment with 
not just the blog but also the video diary 19 In addition, digital technologies 
also promise to extend the powerful data-analytical strategies pioneered by 
Franco Moretti in works such as Graphs, Maps, and Trees, which surveys 
the entire publication record in Britain during the nineteenth century to 
segment trends within the novel into microgeneric categories, generational 
patterns, and evolutionary literary tropes. 20 Emerging practices of data min- 
ing in journals such as the Digital Humanities Quarterly that push Moret- 
ti's structuralist approach further also promise to smash the model of the 
scholar as hermit or genius by encouraging truly collaborative, interdisci- 
plinary research and publication. 21 

It is hard not to be intoxicated by the exciting possibilities proffered by 
the "digital revolution" in scholarly research and publication. In fact, I would 
argue strongly that this emerging movement constitutes a significant reclaim- 
ing of the networked commons on the part of humanities scholars. Neverthe- 
less, I want to interrogate the institutional context within which such Utopian 
movements gestate. This is because there is really no such thing as an aca- 
demic gift economy. As is the case for other forms of user-generated culture, 
the extension of the networked commons is ultimately intertwined with and 
dependent on transformations in other sectors of the economy. After all, the 
Internet itself is & public creation (if one counts the Department of Defense as 
a public entity). Open-access protocols in the humanities will not forge ahead 
unless institutional structures are in place to support such initiatives. Cer- 
tainly, digital research and publication offers exciting possibilities. But prog- 
ress in this sphere as in other sectors of academic capitalism will come only 
through transformations on multiple levels, in struggle that is likely to be long 

DIY Academy? 261 

and hard fought. Technology alone offers no magic bullet in fields beset with 
the kinds of structural challenges that confront the humanities today. 

One of the primary issues to confront in this regard is the fact that the 
predominant use of computing power in contemporary culture is not for 
forms of self-organizing, autonomous culture. Instead, as David Golumbia 
points out at great length, computational power is used primarily to augment 
dominant institutions of corporate and state power, particularly through 
sophisticated forms of surveillance that segment and tabulate populations 
using remarkably conservative racial and gender paradigms. 22 Such bio- 
political manifestations of computational power are of particular concern 
given the rise of audit culture in academia during the neoliberal era. One of 
the main reasons for the publishing crisis, in fact, is the desire of academic 
administrators for simple, quantifiable measures of scholarly productivity 23 
Put in simple terms, books — vetted by academic publishers that assume all 
responsibility for peer review — are easy to count. The more of them the bet- 
ter, at least as far as administrators, tasked with inflating their school's brand 
name in a cutthroat market, are concerned. There is no inherent reason that 
the switch to open-access publication should not play into the audit culture's 
hands, leading to a remorseless intensification of pressures to publish or 
perish. Indeed, precisely such a dynamic is already visible in universities in 
Britain and Australia, where benchmarking measures such as the Research 
Assessment Exercise (RAE) have led to a huge proliferation of journals at the 
service of academics thrown into a frenetic race to publish in order to retain 
funding. The resulting rush to publish articles reminds one of the assembly- 
line scene in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. Scholars often cannot publish 
in experimental OA online journals because they are not counted as legiti- 
mate venues by benchmarks such as the RAE. 24 In addition, administrators 
were not slow to realize the powerful surveillance capabilities of the digital 
academy in regard to teaching. During the NYU graduate-employee strike 
of 2005-2006, for instance, university administrators logged onto classroom 
Blackboard websites secretly in an attempt to figure out which teaching assis- 
tants were respecting the strike. Unless there is a strong movement among 
educators to counter such baleful applications of technology, administrators 
are likely to seize the opportunity for speed-up and surveillance afforded by 
digital publication and pedagogy. 

Another major issue is the infrastructure involved in publication. As 
Ken Wissoker, editorial director at Duke University Press, recently com- 
mented, people who argue that "information wants to be free" are rather like 
the money managers profiled in Liquidated, Karen Ho's recent ethnography 


of Wall Street executives: socialized into a world of high risk and outland- 
ish rewards, elite bankers assume that job insecurity builds character and 
impose these values of precariousness and instability on other businesses. 25 
Wissoker s point is that the publishing industry does not necessarily operate 
along the lines of the gift economy celebrated by some cognitarians and that 
the imposition of the latter on the former is likely to do damage analogous 
to that wrought by speculative venture -capital funds on traditional industrial 
enterprises. Indeed, as Wissoker observes, Duke loses over one million dol- 
lars a year on its book-publishing division, losses that are only made up for 
by library journal subscriptions. Duke's new monograph e-publication initia- 
tive in fact relies on a subscription system similar to that employed for some 
time now to distribute journals. 26 

While multiple copies of a book cost relatively little to publish, there is a 
significant investment involved in the production of the first copy 27 The cre- 
ation of a book is, after all, a collective enterprise, involving editors, copyedi- 
tors, peer reviewers, and so on. Books do not simply appear out of thin air, 
in other words. The same is true for journals, although more of the burden of 
journal production tends to be shouldered by scholars. Initiatives such as the 
University of Michigan Press one, which involves a partnership with the uni- 
versity library, promise to make the cost of book distribution far lower using 
electronic dissemination and print- on- demand. 28 But this will not eliminate 
the costs associated with producing the first copy of the book. Who, pre- 
cisely, will pay for this collective labor if not the university presses? Do we 
want individual academics to have to fund their own publications, as is cur- 
rently the case in the hard sciences? Or do we want publishing to be routed 
through university libraries, which have no experience with peer review 
or with the craft elements of publication? As I argued earlier, questions of 
immaterial labor are ineluctably tied to such practical material issues. 

In addition, while a shift to publishing through university-library-hosted 
servers might free scholars from the vagaries of the market, it may also 
subject them to the political manipulation of host institutions and of fickle 
state legislators. 29 What would happen to publications dependent on such 
revenue streams, for example, in the event of a state fiscal crisis such as the 
one currently unfolding in California? We need to think very carefully, in 
other words, about how to exploit the shift online without surrendering the 
relative autonomy from both market pressures and political censure that we 
humanities scholars have hitherto enjoyed. 

Gatekeeping also represents an additional quandary. At present, univer- 
sity presses shoulder the burden of ensuring a relatively objective system of 

DIY Academy? 263 

peer review, at least in relation to book publication. Gary Hall, in his account 
of the future of digital publishing, highlights the fluid nature of digital texts, 
which lack the static quality of a printed and bound book, and asks how we 
can establish review standards for texts whose networked form means that 
they cannot be read or written in the same way twice. 30 While I agree with 
his conclusion that we cannot respond to the crisis in academic publishing 
by simply trying to put everything on the web, since the migration online 
changes the nature of both text and reader, I am troubled by Hall's poststruc- 
turalist-tinged reflections on institutionality, which celebrate uncertainty and 
instability. The digital transformation undeniably means we need to rethink 
the rules of the game, but it does not necessarily mean a proliferation of dif- 
ference in textual production and evaluation. 

The phenomenon of power law distribution in the blogosphere is instruc- 
tive in this regard. While anyone with regular access to the Internet can theo- 
retically write and read anything in any blog, power law distribution ensures 
that the more material is placed online, the greater the gap between mate- 
rial that gets huge amounts of attention and that which gets merely average 
attention. 31 So blogs like the Daily Kos can get literally millions of hits each 
day, but only a few people look at the average blog. Newcomers tend to lose 
out to already- established voices and sites. 

This phenomenon in the blogosphere suggests that we cannot assume that 
simply putting scholarly materials online will get them a decent airing. Schol- 
arly presses currently play an important curatorial function by identifying 
important theoretical trends and innovative scholarly interventions, ensur- 
ing that such interventions get vetted through scholarly review, and draw- 
ing attention to the works they publish through their marketing departments 
and through their social capital. 32 While there is no doubt a conservative 
aspect to this dynamic, I do not believe that we can assume that self-publish- 
ing online in a venue such as Hall's cultural studies archive CSeARCH will 
automatically lead to a dynamic new online incarnation of the public sphere. 
As power law distribution suggests, it is far more likely that, in the absence 
of a framework calculated to guarantee such dynamism as well as justice 
for junior scholars, existing inequalities in the world of publishing will be 
magnified. Although the institutions we inhabit today are far from perfect, 
they embody a century's worth of struggles for academic freedom and social 
justice, as well as lamentable forms of repressive State power and academic 
capitalism. If we are to ensure that computationalism does not reshape these 
institutions in ways that augment the latter characteristics rather than the 
former, we need to think very carefully about how to enlarge the space for 


autonomous thought and publication using current and fresh institutional 
means rather than expecting that more information will automatically mean 
more freedom. 

The Revolt of the Cognitariat 

During the mid-1990s, a group of Paris-based theorists, many of them exiles 
from the turbulent "years of lead" in Italy during the preceding decade, 
worked to develop a theoretical grasp of unfolding social struggles in the 
journal Futur anterieur. 33 These theorists examined the impact of informa- 
tion technology on production processes and social formations on a global 
scale. Particularly important in this context were the speculative writings of 
Marx in his Grundrisse, which prophesized precisely such a transformation 
of production. For Marx, the creation of wealth in the capitalist societies of 
the future would come to depend not on the direct expenditure of labor time 
but rather on "the general productive forces of the social brain." 34 For theo- 
rists such as Toni Negri, Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarato, Michael Hardt, 
and Jean-Paul Vincent, the heightened significance of this general intellect 
was made possible by the ever more central role of automation and of com- 
munication networks in contemporary processes of production. 

Yet Marx had rather optimistically predicted that increasing automation 
would diminish direct labor time and socialize production, leading inevi- 
tably to the liquidation of private ownership and wage labor. For the past 
several decades, however, just the opposite seemed to be happening. New 
communication technologies had fostered the fragmentation, outsourcing, 
and globalization of production processes. In much of the developed world, 
labor appeared increasingly intellectual as research and design grew more 
central to information capitalism, but workers in high-tech industries were 
subjected to accelerating conditions of precarious employment by transna- 
tional corporations whose footloose character gave organized labor a hor- 
rible drubbing. Neoliberal ideologies dedicated to dismantling the social 
compact between capital, government, and workers made significant inroads 
even in bastions of social democracy such as France. 

Notwithstanding this rout of what Immanuel Wallerstein calls the old 
antisystemic movements, the hegemony of neoliberalism quickly provoked 
new anticapitalist countermovements around the globe. 35 Faced with these 
contending currents, the theorists associated with Futur anterieur argued 
that the crucial issue was not simply the automation of production, which 
would, after all, constitute a form of technological determinism, but rather 

DIY Academy? 265 

the incessantly mutating character of the people who create and operate such 
technology. This variable human factor they termed mass intellect or imma- 
terial labor. Just as the conditions of production in Marx's day had created 
revolutionary conditions by concentrating the proletariat in factories, so 
immaterial labor was linked together through the networked conditions of 
cognitive labor. For theorists such as Franco Berardi, contemporary condi- 
tions have produced a potentially revolutionary class in formation: the cog- 
nitariat. 36 The key question in the unfolding struggles of the neoliberal era 
for the Futur anterieur theorists was the extent to which capital could absorb 
and control immaterial labor. 37 

If the cognitariat had fancied themselves significant stakeholders in infor- 
mation capitalism, the dot-com crash, Franco Berardi argued, laid bare their 
precarious status as flexible wage slaves subjected to remorseless strategies 
of speed-up, outsourcing, and downsizing. 38 Yet an important form of rebel- 
lion had begun well before this economic downturn. If immaterial labor 
depends on communication and collaboration, the cognitariat has consis- 
tently asserted the noncommodified, commons-based character of digital 
culture from its inception. There are many facets to this culture of the digital 
commons, from the exchange of music using peer-to-peer file-sharing tech- 
nology to the collaborative creation of Wikipedia to the creation of Creative 
Commons licenses designed to allow creative remixing of cultural artifacts, 
many of which are discussed by other contributors to this volume in far more 
detail than possible here. The thing that ties these diverse strands together, 
according to David Bollier, is an emphasis on commons-based values of par- 
ticipation, transparency, egalitarianism, and freedom. 39 Contemporary capi- 
talism thrives through asserting control over information using intellectual- 
property regimes such as those sanctified by the World Trade Organization, 
hence assuring the scarcity and consequent exorbitant value of such infor- 
mation. Against this trend, cognitarian rebels have developed a postscarcity 
information economy grounded in the networked commons. 40 

This new commons movement is not, however, simply based on a shift in 
values away from proprietary models of intellectual property. In addition, dig- 
ital technologies are leveraging new forms of social communication, remov- 
ing many of the technical barriers that impeded the organization of large 
groups of people from the grassroots up, barriers that had helped foster rela- 
tively hierarchical and authoritarian organizational forms such as the modern 
state and the vanguard political party 41 As Jeffrey Juris has documented, social 
networking technologies have played an important role in the global justice 
movement, linking geographically isolated groups such as the Zapatista Army 


of National Liberation (EZLN), protagonists of one of the first signal revolts 
against the neoliberal world order, into a global activist grid and facilitating 
transnational mobilizations such as the World Social Forum. 42 These new 
technologies have played an important role in mobilizations against authori- 
tarian governments in nations such as Iran, with networking permitting the 
assembly of so-called flash mobs with little advance warning and no central 
planning, and the rapid global dissemination of documentation of govern- 
ment repression. 43 For analysts such as David Bollier, social networking tech- 
nologies are thus giving birth to new forms of the Habermasian public sphere 
and helping to promote engaged, "history-making" models of citizenship. 44 

It seems to me that we need to approach such at-times hyperbolic claims 
with a skeptical eye if we are to gauge the transformative potential of digital 
culture and immaterial labor with any accuracy. After all, as David Golum- 
bia has argued at great length, digitization is not necessarily emancipatory. 
For Golumbia, the notion that we are witnessing a complete sea change in 
social relations catalyzed by digital technologies with inherently progres- 
sive potential is a form of ideology, one which he dubs computationalism. 45 
While recognizing and celebrating the exploits of transgressive hackers and 
the free/libre/open-source software (FLOSS) movement, Golumbia notes 
that the predominant use of computers in contemporary culture is to aug- 
ment the demarcating, concentrating, and centralizing power of dominant 
social institutions such as the State and transnational corporations. 46 A simi- 
lar point, with the statistics to back it up, is made by Mathew Hindman in 
The Myth of Digital Democracy. 47 In fact, technology permits a giddy overlap 
of these diverse institutions, as I learned when I attended a Joint Forces war 
game during which software for tracking consumer behavior was deployed 
to model the strategies of insurgent forces in Iraqi cities. 48 We would do well 
to remember, given Golumbia's trenchant critique of computationalism, 
that the global reach and power of contemporary capital is to a significant 
extent a product of precisely the networking technologies that are so often 
celebrated by writers such as Bollier. Moreover, repressive states such as Iran 
and China are adapting with alarming rapidity to their citizenry's dissident 
use of tactical media such as Twitter and Facebook, pushing the global cor- 
porations that own these devices into disclosing the names of dissident users. 
And flash mobs are not always progressive. As the Futur anterieur theorists 
might warn us, then, it is not automation but rather the general intellect that 
is decisive in social struggles during the era of cognitive capitalism. 

In addition, there is a certain hubris to discussions of the revolutionary 
potential of the cognitariat among contemporary intellectuals. After all, con- 

DIY Academy? 267 

temporary intellectuals are hardly dispassionate social observers a la Kant. 
They or, dear reader, should I say we, are instead inhabitants of some of the 
most exploited and ideologically benighted precincts of the information 
economy. Yet as deeply as we have imbibed the gall of post-Fordist austerity, 
we should not forget that we are not the only ones to suffer the destructive 
creativity of neoliberalism. The global economy is made up of multiple dif- 
ferent sectors, not all of which can be deemed immaterial labor with any the- 
oretical acuity. The expansion of this term by some of the theorists associated 
with operaismo no doubt stems from their reaction against the vanguardist 
tradition of the Communist Party. For activist intellectuals associated with 
the Italian movement Lotta continua, the Party's purported stranglehold 
over class consciousness had deeply authoritarian implications. 49 The con- 
cept of mass intellect is clearly meant to challenge such preemptive claims 
to the making of history. But, as important as it is to dismantle vanguard- 
ist posturing, there are very real dangers to expanding notions of cognitive 
labor to envelop the entire body politic. This is because, as George Caffentzis 
and Silvia Federici argue, capital has thrived historically by organizing pro- 
duction at both the lowest as well as the highest technological levels of the 
global economy, by exploiting both waged and unwaged labor, and by pro- 
ducing both development and underdevelopment. The logic of capitalism, 
Caffentzis and Federici underline, can only be grasped by "looking at the 
totality of its relations, and not only to the highest point of its scientific/tech- 
nological achievement." 50 The history of the twentieth century, during which 
revolutionary movements found the most fertile terrain in underdeveloped, 
colonized nations rather than in the core capitalist countries, provides ample 
evidence for this critique. 

By privileging immaterial labor and cognitive capitalism, contemporary 
theorists risk eliding the contribution of other forms of work — and other 
workers — to the accumulation process. To quote Caffentzis and Federici 
again, "the huge 'iceberg' of labor in capitalism was made invisible by the 
tendency to look at the tip of the iceberg, industrial labor, while the labor 
involved in the reproduction of labor-power went unseen, with the result 
that the feminist movement was often fought against and seen as something 
outside the class struggle." 51 To privilege one sector of anticapitalist struggle 
over the others is to invite defeat at the hands of capital, whose overlords 
are unfailingly canny in their use of divide-and-conquer tactics. Rather than 
privileging one sector, or even extending its terms to all other sectors as 
some analysts associated with theories of cognitive labor have sought to do, 
we need, Caffentzis and Federici argue, "to see the continuity of our struggle 


through the difference of our places in the international division of labor, 
and to articulate our demands and strategies in accordance to these differ- 
ences and the need to overcome them." 52 Caffentzis and Federici's strategic 
warning of course also finds strong grounding in the work of critics such 
as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, whose theories of agonistic plural- 
ism challenge precisely the erasure of difference that totalizing doctrines of a 
prime historical mover or revolutionary class tend to further. 53 

Caffentzis and Federici's admonitions should hardly need airing today in 
the context of a global justice movement whose protagonists have been over- 
whelmingly based on the global South among indigenous and peasant orga- 
nizations such as the EZLN and La Via Campesina. 54 Nevertheless, advocates 
of the networked commons almost always ignore the impact of debates about 
intellectual property on those who are not a part of the cognitariat but whose 
lives are likely to be deeply affected by legal decisions and dissident technolo- 
gies. 55 As Andrew Ross puts it in a recent discussion of precarious labor that 
charts the overlaps and disjunctures between those at the top and those at 
the bottom of the labor market today, 

Because they are generally indisposed to state intervention, FLOSS advo- 
cates have not explored ways of providing a sustainable infrastructure for 
the gift economy that they tend to uphold. Nor have they made it a prior- 
ity to speak to the interests of less-skilled workers who live outside their 
ranks. On the face of it, there is little to distinguish this form of conscious- 
ness from the guild labor mentality of yore that sought security in the pro- 
tection of craft knowledge. 56 

For Ross, (prototypically liberal) notions of freedom endemic to the cog- 
nitariat need to be supplemented and transformed by a movement for social 
justice that cuts across classes, catalyzing what Caffentzis and Federici would 
call a political "recomposition" of the workforce. 

A key element in such a recomposition will surely be the elaboration of 
praxis that recognizes the strategic importance of the networked commons 
while refusing to subordinate struggles over other instances of the commons 
to the perspectives and tactical orientations of the cognitariat. As Michael 
Hardt has recently argued, the ecological and the social commons are united 
by significantly similar dynamics. Both, for example, "defy and are deterio- 
rated by property relations." 57 Nevertheless, as Hardt admits, there are sig- 
nificant disparities between these two commons, with the ecological sphere 
hinging on conservation of an increasingly depleted biosphere, while social 

DIY Academy? 269 

commons discourses focus on the open and potentially unlimited character 
of social creation and intercourse. The point though, as Laclau and Mouffe's 
theoretical work suggests, should be to articulate common struggles across 
this differentiated but nevertheless potentially complementary terrain of 

Nick Dyer- Witheford's recent model of a twenty-first-century commu- 
nism as "a complex unity of terrestrial, state and networked commons" goes 
some way toward conceptualizing such an articulatory politics. 58 Crucial to 
his theorization, indeed, is a vision of the networked commons that, despite 
its role as "the strategic and enabling point" in this ensemble, must never- 
theless be seen in its dependency on and potential contradiction with other 
commons sectors. 59 The successful articulation of these different commons, 
or their disarticulation by capital, lies, in other words, in the realm of radical 
democratic politics rather than in any inherent features of immaterial labor. 

(Tentative) Conclusions 

Academics in the humanities are woefully unprepared for digital transfor- 
mations, despite the significant and multifarious opportunities it offers for 
scholarship. According to the landmark Modern Language Association 
Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Pro- 
motion, 40.8 percent of the doctorate-granting institutions that responded 
to the organization's survey had no experience evaluating refereed articles 
in electronic format, and 65.7 percent had no experience evaluating mono- 
graphs in electronic format. 60 The report concludes that while scholars are 
willing to experiment with online publishing, what matters most in judging 
scholarship is peer review, and e-publishing remains tainted because peer 
review has not sufficiently touched it. Just as is true in the sciences, while 
humanities scholars may disseminate their publications online, the final, 
archival publication still has to appear in a traditional, paper format to be 
considered seriously for tenure and promotional evaluation. This means that 
many of the radical textual and scholarly possibilities of digital publication 
remain unexplored. 

For this situation to change, scholars need to have a far more serious and 
sustained discussion about the implications of online publishing. The MLA 
report opens that dialogue by posing a number of important questions: Why, 
for example, should the monograph be the pinnacle of scholarly achievement 
in the humanities? Why, furthermore, should the dissertation be a protobook 
rather than a portfolio of essays and other forms of inquiry (data analysis, 


visual displays such as Moretti's graphs, maps, and trees, etc.)? Why should 
we cling to the isolated, atomistic model of scholarly production, a conserva- 
tive tendency that seems particularly peculiar given decades of theoretical 
work to dismantle liberal models of sovereign subjectivity, rather than devel- 
oping models for collaborative production? 61 

In my work on the editorial collective of the journal Social Text, I have 
seen that digitalization raises a series of thorny questions as well as many 
exciting opportunities for scholars. Recent discussions about making the 
journal open access have highlighted some of the complex dynamics around 
publishing that I alluded to earlier. Members of the editorial collective 
expressed hesitation, for example, about depriving their publisher of the rev- 
enues produced by the journal and trepidations about shifting the journal 
too far away from its archive-worthy print incarnation. 62 At present, Social 
Text is experimenting with an online presence that will explore some of the 
radical possibilities for digital scholarship using blogs, video diaries, and 
electronic forums while retaining its official paper imprimatur. We will see 
how long this compromise formation holds up as the digital transformation 
gathers steam — although this metaphor demonstrates the extent to which 
new technology is always framed in terms of and shaped by prior forms, sug- 
gesting that it will not be so easy to shake off the tyranny of paper even when 
the journal goes completely online. 

A more ambitious model for the future is available in the form of the 
Open Humanities Press (OHP), which is using the social capital of its stellar 
international editorial board to leverage support for a stable of ten online 
journals and a constellation of five e-book series. 63 The prominence of OHP's 
editors is likely to solve some of the power law distribution problems that I 
discussed earlier, although it does raise questions about equality. Should not 
junior scholars have a really significant presence in any online initiative since 
it is they whose careers are most likely to shape and be shaped by digital 
transformations? Does the OHP's glamorous editorial board offer meaning- 
ful openings for scholars at all levels, or does it simply recapitulate the star 
system's unequal access to print publication? In addition, how sustainable 
is the OHP's book series, which is slated to operate through a cooperative 
agreement with the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing 
Office? Will some of the concerns voiced by the academic publishers I inter- 
viewed concerning the poor fit between libraries and scholarly publishing be 
borne out? 

We are at the initial stages of such initiatives and of a far broader discussion 
about their theoretical implications. It is important, however, that we think 

DIY Academy? 271 

clearly about the implications of current projects and about the processes and 
institutions that are driving the move online. At the moment, online teach- 
ing is dominated by for-profit organizations like the University of Phoenix that 
offer some of the worst examples of exploitation of precarious intellectual labor 
in academia. 64 Large foundations such as Mellon are promoting the shift online 
through initiatives such as Project Bamboo that were not initially framed in a 
particularly inclusive manner. As I have indicated, there is nothing to prevent 
administrators from using computationalism to intensify academic capitalism 
except our own self-organizing efforts. Academics need to assert our collec- 
tive agency in establishing the contours of the digital future rather than allow- 
ing administrators and corporations to define that future for us. In addition, 
theories of the cognitariat have tended to be woefully myopic in their analysis 
of the multiple strata and divide-and-conquer tactics of contemporary capi- 
talism. The move online certainly cannot solve the deep problems raised by 
academic and cognitive capitalism, but analysis of the digital humanities does 
need to take these material conditions into consideration in order to escape 
technological determinism and voluntarism. Against such problematic mod- 
els, scholars need to work actively on both theoretical and practical planes to 
foster an inclusionary and egalitarian networked commons. 


i. Philip Pochoda, letter to author, April 2, 2009. 

2. Lindsay Waters, Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholar- 
ship (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm, 2004), 65. 

3. Stephen Greenblatt, "A Special Letter from Stephen Greenblatt," May 28, 2002, 
Accessed 18 August 2009, 

4. Gary Hall, Digitize This Book: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access 
Now (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 16. 

5. Franco Berardi (Bifo), "From Intellectuals to Cognitarians," in Utopian Pedagogy: 
Radical Experiments against Neoliberal Globalization, ed. Mark Cote, Richard J. F. Day, and 
Greig de Peuter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 136. 

6. Nick Dyer-Witheford, "Teaching and Tear Gas: The University in the Era of General 
Intellect," in Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments against Neoliberal Globalization, ed. 
Mark Cote, Richard J. F. Day, and Greig de Peuter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 
2007), 46. 

7. Michael Hardt, "Politics of the Common," ZNet, July 6, 2009, 
znet/viewArticle/21899 . 

8. Waters, Enemies of Promise, 29. 

9. Ibid., 36. 

10. Philip Pochoda, personal interview, July 27, 2008; Ken Wissoker, personal interview, 
August 17, 2009. 


ii. John Willinsky, The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Schol- 
arship (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005). 

12. Kyoo Lee, personal interview, July 30, 2009. 

13. Hall, Digitize This Book, 45. 

14. Ibid., 46. 

15. David Bollier, Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own 
(New York: New Press, 2008), 285-292. 

16. Hall, Digitize This Book, 10. 

17. David Theo Goldberg and Stefka Hristova, "Blue Velvet: Re-dressing New 
Orleans in Katrina's Wake," Vectors, n.d., 

18. "The Digital Humanities Manifesto," May 29, 2009, 

19. Gabriella Coleman, personal interview, May 4, 2009. 

20. Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History (New 
York: Verso, 2005). 

21. Shlomo Argamon, Charles Cooney, Russell Horton, Mark Olsen, Sterling Stein, and 
Robert Voyer, "Gender, Race, and Nationality in Black Drama, 1950-2006: Mining Differ- 
ences in Language Use in Authors and Their Characters," Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.2 
(Spring 2009), http://digitalhumanities.0rg/dhq/vol/3/2/000043.html; Andrew Stauffer, 
personal interview, August 3, 2009. 

22. David Golumbia, The Cultural Logic of Computation (Cambridge: Harvard Univer- 
sity Press, 2009), 129. 

23. Waters, Enemies of Promise, 14. 

24. Sidonie Smith, personal interview, August 10, 2009. 

25. Ken Wissoker, personal interview; Karen Ho, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall 
Street (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009). 

26. Michael McCullough, personal interview, July 29, 2009. 

27. Philip Pochoda, "University Press 2.0," University of Michigan Press Blog, May 27, 
press-20-by-phil-pochoda.html (accessed August 17, 2009). 

28. Ibid. 

29. Wissoker, personal interview. 

30. Hall, Digitize This Book, 67. 

31. Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody (New York: Penguin, 2008), 127. 

32. Courtney Berger, personal interview, August 5, 2009. 

33. Dyer-Witheford, "Teaching and Tear Gas," 44. 

34. Quoted in ibid. 

35. Emmanuel Wallerstein, "New Revolts against the System," New Left Review 18 
(November-December 2002): 32. 

36. Berardi, "From Intellectuals to Cognitarians," 140. 

37. Dyer-Witheford, "Teaching and Tear Gas," 45. 

38. Berardi, "From Intellectuals to Cognitarians," 140. 

39. Bollier, Viral Spiral, 4. 

40. Nick Dyer-Witheford, "The Circulation of the Common," April 29, 2006, http:// 

DIY Academy? 273 

4i. Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, 21. 

42. Jeff Juris, Networking Futures: The Movements against Corporate Globalization (Dur- 
ham: Duke University Press, 2008). 

43. "Social Networking in Iran — an Electronic Forum," Social Text Online, September 
15, 2009, 

44. B oilier, Viral Spiral, 299. 

45. Golumbia, Cultural Logic of Computation, 1. 

46. Ibid., 4. 

47. Matthew Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University 
Press, 2008). 

48. Ashley Dawson, "Combat in Hell: Cities as the Achilles Heel of U.S. Imperial Hege- 
mony," Social Text 25.2 (Summer 2007): 170. 

49. Berardi, "From Intellectuals to Cognitarians," 133. 

50. George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici, "CAFA and the Edu-Factory, Part 2: Notes 
on the Edu-Factory and Cognitive Capitalism," Edu-Factory, May 12, 2007, http://www. php?option=com_content&view=article&id=io9:cafa- 

51. Ibid. 

52. Ibid. 

53. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a 
Radical Democratic Politics (New York: Verso, 2001). 

54. Notes from Nowhere, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-capital- 
ism (New York: Verso, 2003). 

55. Andrew Ross, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times (New 
York: NYU Press, 2009), 165. 

56. Ibid., 168. 

57. Hardt, "Politics of the Common." 

58. Dyer-Witheford, "Circulation of the Common." 

59. Ibid. 

60. Modern Language Association, Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholar- 
ship for Tenure and Promotion, December 2006, 

61. Smith, personal interview. 

62. Livia Tenzer, letter to Social Text Editorial Collective, July 10, 2009. 

63. Lee, personal interview. 

64. Ana Marie Cox, "None of Your Business: The Rise of the University of Phoenix and 
For-Profit Education — and Why It Will Fail Us All," in Steal This University, ed. Benjamin 
Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, and Kevin Mattson, 15-32 (New York: Routledge, 2003). 


About the Contributors 

chris Anderson is editor in chief of Wired. Since joining Wired in 2001, 
he has led the magazine to nine National Magazine Awards. Time magazine 
named Anderson to its 2007 "Time 100" list. He is author of The Long Tail: 
Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More and Free: The Future of a 
Radical Price. 

c. w. anderson is Assistant Professor of Media Culture at the College of 
Staten Island/CUNY and the author of numerous works on the transforma- 
tions of journalism in the digital age. 

fred benenson works in research and development at Kickstarter and 
previously was Outreach Manager for Creative Commons. He is the creator 
oiEmoji Dick and the founder of Free Culture @ NYU. He has taught copy- 
right and cyberlaw at NYU. 

yochai benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal 
Studies at Harvard and faculty codirector of the Berkman Center for Inter- 
net and Society. He is the author of the award-winning book The Wealth of 
Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. He was 
awarded the EFF Pioneer Award in 2007 and the Public Knowledge IP3 
Award in 2006. His work can be freely accessed at 

danah boyd is a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research and a Research 
Associate at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. 
She recently coauthored Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: 
Kids Living and Learning with New Media. She blogs at http://www.zephoria. 
org/thoughts/ and tweets at @zephoria. 

e. gabriella coleman is the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Techno- 
logical Literacy at McGill University. Trained as an anthropologist, she works 
on the politics of digital media with a focus on computer hackers. 


The collaborative futures project has developed over two intensive 
book sprints. In January 2010 in Berlin, Adam Hyde (founder, FLOSSmanu- 
als), Mike Linksvayer (vice president, Creative Commons), Michael Mandi- 
berg (Associate Professor, College of Staten Island/CUNY), Marta Peirano 
(writer), Alan Toner (filmmaker), and Mushon Zer-Aviv (resident, Eyebeam 
Center for Art and Technology) wrote the first edition in five days under the 
aegis of transmediale festival's Parcours series. In June 2010, the book was 
rewritten at Eyebeam's Re:Group exhibition in New York City with the origi- 
nal six and three new contributors: kanarinka (artist and founder, Institute 
for Infinitely Small Things), Sissu Tarka (artist, researcher), and Astra Taylor 
(filmmaker). The full book is freely available to read and to write at www. 

Patrick davison is a PhD candidate in the Department of Media, Cul- 
ture, and Communication at NYU. He is one-third of the Internet-themed 
performance Memefactory and has written and performed for the webseries 
Know Your Meme. 

ashley dawson is Associate Professor of English at the City University 
of New York's Graduate Center and at the College of Staten Island/CUNY He 
is the author of Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making ofPostco- 
lonial Britain, coeditor of three essay collections, and coeditor of Social Text 

henry jenkins is the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journal- 
ism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He is 
the author or editor of twelve books, including Textual Poachers: Televi- 
sion Fans and Participatory Culture, Convergence Culture: Where Old and 
New Media Collide, and Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participa- 
tory Culture. Jenkins is the principal investigator for Project New Media 

lawrence lessig is Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Cen- 
ter for Ethics at Harvard University and Professor of Law at Harvard Law 
School. Lessig is the author of five books on law, technology, and copyright: 
Remix, Code vi, Free Culture, The Future of Ideas, and Code and Other Laws 
of Cyberspace. He has served as lead counsel in a number of important cases, 
including Eldred v. Ashcroft. 

276 About the Contributors 

fred von lohmann is Senior Copyright Counsel at Google, although 
his contribution here was authored while he was Senior Staff Attorney at the 
Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

michael mandiberg is an artist and Associate Professor of Media 
Culture at the College of Staten Island/CUNY and Doctoral Faculty at the 
City University of New York's Graduate Center. He is the coauthor of Digital 
Foundations: An Intro to Media Design and Collaborative Futures. His work 
can been accessed via 

tim o' re illy is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media. In addition to 
Foo Camps, O'Reilly Media also hosts numerous conferences on technology 
topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit and the O'Reilly Open Source Con- 
vention. O'Reilly is a founder of the Safari Books Online subscription service 
for accessing books online and of O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early- 
stage venture firm. He blogs at 

jay rosen is Associate Professor of Journalism and Director of Studio 20 
at New York University. He is the author of the book What Are Journalists 
For? and PressThink, a blog about journalism and its ordeals, located at Press-; PressThink won the 2005 Freedom Blog award from Reporters 
Without Borders. 

clay shirky isa writer, consultant, and teacher of the social and eco- 
nomic effects of Internet technologies. He is Distinguished Writer in Resi- 
dence at the Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and Assis- 
tant Arts Professor at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications 
Program. He is the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organiz- 
ing without Organizations and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in 
a Connected Age. 

felix stalder is Lecturer in Digital Culture and Network Theory at 
the Zurich University of the Arts, where he codirects the media arts pro- 
gram. He has written and edited several books, including Open Cultures 
and the Nature of Networks, Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Net- 
work Society, and Deep Search: The Politics of Search beyond Google. He is 
also a moderator of the nettime mailing list and can be accessed via felix. 

About the Contributors 277 

siva vaidhyanathan is Professor of Media Studies and Law at the Uni- 
versity of Virginia. He is the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise 
of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity, The Anarchist in the 
Library, and The Googlization of Everything — and Why We Should Worry. 

278 About the Contributors 


1% rule (the 90-9-1 principle), 190 

"1984" (television commercial), 174 

2600, 105 

37signals, 49 

4chan.0rg, 6, 110-111 

80-20 rule, 140. See also Pareto's Principle 

abolition, 156-157, 167, 84 

action figures, 213, 216-219 

Action League Now!!!, 218 

Adafruit Industries, 196 

Adaptive Path, 49 

address book, 50 

Adkisson, Richard, 26 

Adobe Creative Suite, 193 

advertising, 33, 38, 84, 208. See also market- 
ing; media 

Advice Dog, 127-133 

AIGA Design Press/New Riders, 194 

AJAX, 46, 47, 49 

Akamai, 33, 34, 39 

Albers, Josef, 193 

Albrecht, Chris, 210, 220, 223-224 

algorithms, 5, 36, 150 

amateur, 246-247, 158, 164, 180, 38, 39, 42-44, 120, 137, 140, 
141, 143, 149, 164, 204 
Amazon Associates, 47 

Amendments to the United States 

Fourth Amendment, 156, 161 
Eighteenth Amendment, 157 
Twenty-First Amendment, 157, 158 

America's Funniest Home Videos, 213 

analytics software, 190 

anarchy, 83 

Anderson, C. W., 5 

Anderson, Chris, 5, 6, 36, 250 

anime music videos, 159-160 

Anonymous, 6, 110 

anorexia, 252, 84 

antiglobalization, 82 

AOL, 113 

Apache, 39 

API (Application Programming Interface), 

39, 42, 46-48, 250 
Apple, 174 

Apple OS X, 183 

Apple's Powerbook, 190 

iMac, 159 

iPhone, 71 

iPod, 48, 158 

iTunes, 48, 137, 140, 141, 145, 147, 150, 
158, 164 
applet, 49 

appropriation, 219-220 
architecture, 191 
art, 187, 191, 193 
ASCII, 106 

Associated Content, 84 
Association of the Bar of the City of New 

York, 167 
astroturfing, 246 
AT&T, 25, 73, 104-105 
AtomFilms, 203, 210, 223-224 
attribution, 53, 130-133 
augmented reality, 73 
authorship, 6, 53, 56-57, 120, 130-133, 178-186 

Ihl. See 4chan.0rg 

back-end, 8, 242, 248-251, 254 

backpack, 49 


Ballmer, Steve, 164 

Barnes & Noble, 43, 138, 142 

Bartle, Richard, 227 

basecamp, 49 

Battelle, John, 33, jj 

Bauhaus Basic Course, 193 

BBSes, 106, 114 

Beastie Boys, 166 

Beatles, The, 159 

Benenson, Fred, 7 

Benkler, Yochai, 2-3, 5, 27 

Berardi, Franco, 266 

BitTorrent, 33-36, 63 

Black Album, 159 

Blackboard (software), 262 

Blair, Tony, 161 

Blip TV, 166 

Blockbuster Video, 138, 142 

Blogger, 244 

Hogging, 13, 15, 34, 39-40, 53-54, 64, 75-76, 

80, 87, 239, 244-248, 271 
Bloglines, 40 
blogola, 246 
Blue Box, the, 103 
Bollier, David, 266-267 
Bollywood, 138 
book sprint, 194 
booki, 65 

books, 137, 142, 145, 160 
boyd, danah, 5 
Brandeis, Louis, 156 
Bright Bike, 196-197 
Bright Idea Shade, 191-192, 194-196 
Britannica Online, 34 
Brooker, Will, 221 
Brothers Grimm, 209 
BSD (Berkley Software Distribution), 182 
burrough, xtine, 193 
Bush, George, 161 
"Bush Blair Endless Love", 160 
business. See economics 
business-to-business (B2B), 46 
Byrne, David, 166 

Caffentzis, George, 268-269 
Campbell, Cole, 90 

Cannes Film Festival, 159-160 

Caouette, Jonathan, 159, 160 

Captain Crunch, 103-104 

Capturing the Friedmans, 143 

Carey, James, 86, 90 

Carnegie Mellon, 124 

carpooling, 17, 21 

Cartoon Network, 204, 219 

Cathedral and the Bazaar, The (Raymond), 

CBS, 79 
CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and 

Prevention), 251 
Cee-Lo, 166 

Celebrity Deathmatch, 219 
celestial jukebox, 158 
censorship, 249 
Chaplin, Charlie, 262 
Church of Scientology, 110 
circuit board, 187 
civil rights, 157 
Clear Bits, 195 
Clinton, Hilary, 174 
CNN, 211 

Coase, Ronald, 27, 243-244 
Coates, Tom, 40 
cognitive surplus, 237 
Colbert, Stephen, 55-56 
Cole, Jeanne, 221 
Coleman, E. Gabriella, 6, 82-83 
collaboration, 5, 82-83, 187, 195, 258-259. 

See also sharing 

coordination of, 53-54, 61, 65 

critiques of, 56-57, 251 

political economy in, 60-66 

systems for sharing, 17, 19-21 

with the enemy, 58-59 
collective intelligence, 37, 231-233 
color theory, 193 

commercial culture, 163, 192, 204 
commit (software development), 54 
commons, the, 266, 269-270 
Communist Party, 268 
community, 189, 243-244, 248-249, 254 
community of practice, 64 
compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), 191 


About the Contributors 

computationalism, 267 

computer programming, 32-51. See also 

web services 
Concepcion, Bievenido, 214 
consumer culture, 137, 147 
content management systems, 34 
convergence culture, 2, 163, 204-209, 225 
Convergence Culture (Jenkins), 2, 8 
copyleft, 180 
copyright, 5, 9, 24-30, 44, 146, 159-161, 167, 

208-210, 221, 223-224 

benefits of, 158 

clearance culture, 161, 170-176 

infringement, 253 

law, 6-7, 168, 170-176, 184-186, 191, 252 

reform of, 164-165, 178, 185 
Craigslist, 43 

"Crank Dat" (Superman dance), 159 
Crawford, Michael David, 179-181, 183-185 
Creative Commons, 7, 9, 28, 47, 65, 130, 


critiques of, 182 

license, 163, 166, 178-186, 188, 192-194, 

252, 266 
crime, 253 
crime map, 238 
crowds ourcing, 246, 253. See also labor; 

long tail; Web 2.0 
Cruise, Tom, 110 
Crystal Method, 141 
CseARCH, 264 
CSS, 49 
Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is 

Killing Our Culture, The (Keen), 5 
Cult of the Dead Cow, 109 
culture. See consumer culture; convergence 

culture; DIY; fan culture; folk culture; 

free culture; media; public culture; read/ 

write culture; subculture; vernacular 

culture; youth culture 
Curley, Tom, 14 
Customer Relations Management Software 

(CRM), 50 

Daily Kos, 264 
dance (remix in), 159 

Danger Mouse, 159-160, 166 

data, 35-36, 51, 242. See also metadata 

aggregation, 56-57, 63 

value-added data, 38, 42-44 

ownership, 42-44, 248-249 
Daughter from Danang, 143 
Davison, Patrick, 6 
Dawkins, Richard, 6, 120, 126 
Dawson, Ashley, 5, 8 
Debian, 66 

Debord, Guy, 242, 248 
Deciding What's News (Gans), 79 
DEFCON, 109 

Demand Media, 78, 81, 84, 88-89, 92-93 
democratic theory, 81, 89-93, 267-269, 45 
Dell, 47 

Denning, Michael, 259 
Department of Defense, 261 
design, 187 

Desperate Housewives, 236 
Dewey, John, 82, 90 
DHTML, 49 
Diamond, Neil, 218 
Digg, 3, 190 
Digital, 25 

digital cinema, 203-216, 218-220 
digital creativity, 157-168 
digital divide, 160, 244 
Digital Foundations: An Intro to Media 

Design (Mandiberg), 193-196 
digital humanities, 261 
Digital Humanities Quarterly, 261 
Digital Millennium Copyright Act 

(DMCA), 7, 173, 180, 209 
digital natives, 72 
digital technologies, 167 
disintermediation, 170 
Disney, 115, 144, 209 
DIY, 104, 189, 196, 204 
Doctor Who, 143 
Document Object Model, 49 
Dopazo, Jennifer, 194, 195 
Dora the Explorer, 240 
Dors, Maartin, 248-249 
dot-com, 4, 6, 32 

About the Contributors 


DoubleClick, 33, 34, 36, 39 
Dougherty, Dale, 32 
Due/ Masters, 204 
Duke University Press, 262-263 
Duncombe, Stephen, 115 
Durack, Elizabeth, 222 
DVD, 137, 204, 212 
Dyer-Witheford, Nick, 270 

e-books, 257 

E-commerce, 141 

e-mail sabbatical, 71 

eBay, 36-39. 42, 143 

Ecast, 140 

economics, 6, 192, 196 

market/firm vs non-market production, 

market theory, 86, 245 
sharing as modality of production, 17-22 

Economist, The, 24 

eDonkey, 63 

Eilat, Galit, 58 

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), 253 

emoticons, 124-125 

eMusic, 148 

enclosure, 26 

Encyclopedia Dramatica (ED), 111-112, 122 

Engrave Your Tech, 190 

Engressia, Joe (Joy Bubbles), 102 

Entertainment Weekly, 204 

etchstar, 190 

Ettema, James, 80 

EVDB (Events and Venues Database), 34, 44 

evite, 34 

Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, 
188-192, 194 

Ezekiel, 88 

EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Libera- 
tion), 266-267, 269 

F/X (special effects), 203, 224 
Facebook, 2, 59, 120 
Fahlman, Scott E., 124 
failure, 193, 244 

fair use, 7, 29, 56-57, 160, 165, 167, 175. See 
also copyright 

Fake, Caterina, 41 

Faleux, Shane, 215 

fan culture, 7-8 

fan fiction, 223-225 

Federal Communications Commission, 

Federici, Silvia, 268-269 
feminism, 156 
film, 105, 137-140, 142-144, 149-150, 

Firefox, 50, 100 
Fithian, John, 15 
Fitz-Roy, Don, 214 
fiamewar, 106-107 
Flash, 49 

flash mob, 49, 267 
Flickr, 34, 41, 45, 49, 163, 166, 188, 190, 244, 

FLOSS (FOSS), 6, 24-30, 39, 45, 47, 65, 99, 

101, 112-113, !82, 185-188, 193-195, 238, 

247, 254, 260, 267-269 

history of, 188 

sexism in, 252 
FLOSSmanuals, 65, 194 
Folding@Home, 63 
folk culture, 204, 206-209 
folksonomy, 34, 38, 54. See also tagging 
FOO Camp, 33 
Fort Minor, 166 
Fotonaut, 166 

Foucault, Michel, 120, 130-133 
Fountains of Wayne, 141 
Fraser, Nancy, 88 

Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business, 6 
free as in beer, 6, 192, 246, 250, 253 
Free Culture (Lessig), 161, 163 
free culture, 7, 8, 53, 160, 165, 178, 182, 

187-188, 192, 253 

business models of, 192 

ethics of, 181 
free software. See FLOSS 
Free Software Foundation, 26, 178, 181 
free use, 160, 165 
freedom of speech, 26, 163 
Fried, Limor, 188-191, 196 


About the Contributors 

front-end, 242, 248, 252, 254 
Frumin, Michael, 189 
FTC (Federal Trade Commission), 246 
Fungible goods, 182-185 
Furtado, Vasco, 238 
Futur anterieur, 265-267 
The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop 
It (Zittrain), 120 

games, 205, 227-229 

Gandhi, 88 

Gans, Herbert, 79 

Garrett, Jesse James, 49 

Gates, Bill, 25 

GeoCities, 125 

Gil, Gilberto, 28, 166 

Gilligan's Island, 236, 239-240 

Gilmor, Dan, 14, 42 

GIMP, 193-194 

Girl Talk, 159, 166 

GIS, 46 

GitHub, 184 

Gitlin, Todd, 88 

Glocer, Tom, 15 

GNU General Public License. See GPL 

GNU/Linux 21, 24, 27, 39, 66, 181-184, 187 

Goldstein, Paul, 158 

Golumbia, David, 262, 267 

Google, 34-35, 39, 42, 44-45, 120, 210, 250 

Gmail, 44, 45, 49, 50 

Google AdSense, 34, 35-36, 47, 142-143, 

Google Analytics, 250 

Google Docs, 50 

Google Flu Trends, 251 

Google Maps, 43-46, 238 

Google PageRank, 37, 41, 57-58, 62 

as web service, 35 
Gorbachev, Mikhail, 167 
Gore, Al, 55 
GPL (General Public License), 28, 181-183, 

247. 254 
Graffiti Research Lab, 189 
Graphical User Interface (GUI), 49 
Graphs, Maps, and Trees (Moretti), 261 
Great Recession, the, 6 

Green, Seth, 219 

Greenblatt, Stephen, 257 

Grey Album, 159 

Grundrisse, 265 

GTD (Getting Things Done), 74 

Gutmann, Amy, 90-91 

Gypsies, The, 230 

Haas, Tanni, 86 

Habermas, Jiirgen, 82, 90-92, 267 
hackers, 6, 25, 27, 47, 99-101, 108-111 
Hackers: Heroes of the Revolution (Levy), 

Hafstein, Vladimir, 29-30 
Hall, Gary, 261, 264 
Halon, Aaron, 217 
Hamster Dance, 125-126 
"Happy Birthday," 166 
Haraway, Donna, 66 
Hardt, Michael, 259, 265, 269-270 
Harmon, Amy, 220 
Harry Potter, 175 
hashtag, 54 
Hastings, Reed, 143 
Hebdige, Dick, 101, 108 
Hemingway, Ernest, 157 
Henderson, Cal, 45 
Here Comes Everybody, 243 
Hill, Benjamin Mako, 178 
Hindman, Mathew, 267 
Ho, Karen, 262-263 
home movies, 212-214 
Honig, Bonnie, 92 

HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth), 109, 43, 47 
"The Hunt for Gollum," 174, 175 
hybrid economies, 163 
Hyde, Adam, 5, 194 
Hyde, Lewis, 115 

I Love Lucy, 236 

IBM, 21, 24, 237 

ideal-types, 78, 81 

identity, 43-44, 53 

IFC Films, 137 

IM (instant messaging), 50 

About the Contributors 283 

images, 249 

IMDb (Internet Movie Database), 65, 

immaterial labor, 265 

Industrial Revolution, 236, 240 

Indymedia, 78, 81, 82, 87, 92. See also jour- 
nalism, citizen 

information overload, 71-76 

Inkscape, 193-194 

institution, 245, 189, 191-192 

intellectual property, 25, 208-210, 221, 

interactivity, 204-205 

internet protocols, 27. See also networks 

Into Thin Air (Krakauer), 137 

Ippolita, 59 

IRC (Internet Relay Chat), 27 

Jackson, Peter, 174 

Jackson, Samuel L., 218 

Jargon File, the, 113 

Jarvis, Jeff, 14 

Java, 49 

JavaScript, 49 

Jay Z, 159 

Jenkins, Henry, 2, 5, 7-8 

Jobs, Steve, 103, 147 

journalism, 5-6, 77, 79 

algorithmic, 6, 83-84, 87-89, 92 
citizen, 13-15, 29, 49, 77-83, 87, 92 
public, 81-83, 86, 87, 89-93 

Juris, Jeffrey, 266-267 

kanarinka, 5 

Kazaa, 145, 147, 196 

King, Martin Luther, 88 

Kirschner, Ann, 15 

"Know Your Meme," 122 

knowledge sharing, 64 

Koster, Raph, 210, 227-229, 231 

Krakauer, Jon, 137 

Kronke, Clay, 216 

Kutiman (Ophir Kutiel), 56-57 

labor, 7, 36, 209-211. See also outsourcing; 

peer production; user generated content; 

wisdom of crowds 
LaCarte, Deidre, 125 
Laclau, Ernesto, 269 
Lady Ada, 191 

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, 138-139 
Lambert, Steve, 191-194 
laser cutter, 187 
Laszlo Systems, 49 
Latour, Bruno, 66 
Lawrence of Arabia, 217 
Laws, Kevin, 142 
Lazzarato, Maurizio, 265 
Le Guin, Ursula, 105 
Le Tigre, 166 
LED Throwies, 189 
LEGO, 218 
Lenin, Vladimir, 100 
Lessig, Lawrence, 6, 8, 209, 252 
Levy, Joseph, 210-211, 214 
Levy, Steven, 99, 100 
life hacking, 74 
Limewire, 63 
Linden Labs, 164 
Linksvayer, Mike, 5 
Linux. See GNU/Linux 
Liquidated, 262 
"Living with Schizoaffective Disorder," 

179. 183 
Loki, 115 

LOLcats, 127, 239 
Lonelygirlis, 3, 245-246 
long tail, 36, 141-143, 146, 149-150 
Lord of the Rings, The, 174 
Los Angeles International Film Festival, 159 
Lotta continua, 268 
Lotus, 39 
Louvre, 183 
Lovink, Geert, 59 
Lucas, George, 222 
Lucas Film, 166 

LucasArts, 8, 220-221, 223, 227, 231 
Luhrmann, Baz, 224 
lulz, 6, 111-116 


About the Contributors 

Macromedia, 49 
Mahalo, 84 
mailing lists, 179, 239 
Malcolm in the Middle, 236 
Malik, Om, 166 
Mansfield, Joe, 190 
MapQuest, 42, 43, 46 
Marconi, 243 

marketing, 4, 32-33, 245. See also advertis- 
ing; media 
Marx, 265-269 
Marxism, 83 
mashup, 33, 43 
mass media. See media 
Mather, Evan, 211-212, 218 
Matmos, 166 
Matrix, The, 248 
Maurer, David, 113 
McCracken, Grant, 205, 225-226 
McGregor, Ewan, 224 
McLuhan, Marshall, 242 
media, 3. See also advertising; marketing 

audiences, 1-3, 6, 8, 13-15, 36, 42, 77-93, 
140-141, 160, 170, 236-241, 250 

children and media, 165, 168 

industries, 137-150, 166, 148, 165, 170, 194 

mass media, 13-15, 55, 138, 155, 244, 

niche markets, 137-150 

regulation, 21 

social media, 4, 7, 8, 53, 242 
Media Lab Prado, 194 
Media Wiki, 54 
Mellon Foundation, 272 
meme, 6, 32-34, 120-133 
metadata, 54, 132 
metamoderation, 64 
microblogging, 53 
Microsoft, 25, 27, 33-34, 39, 45-46, 48, 50, 

164, 190 

MapPoint, 46 

Windows, 183 
MIT, 6, 26, 100-101, 188 

media lab, 182 

OpenCourseWare, 260 

Mitnick, Kevin, 100, 108-109 

MLA (Modern Language Association), 
257, 270 

Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluat- 
ing Scholarship for Tenure and Promo- 
tion, 270 

MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online 
Role-Playing Game), 227-228 

mobile computing, 48, 71-76, 206 

modders/modding, 208, 228-231 

Modern Times, 262 

Moleskine, 190 

Mona Lisa, 183 

Monde, Le, 211 

Moretti, Franco, 261, 270-271 

Mouffe, Chantal, 91-92, 269 

Moulin Rouge!, 224 

mountain climbing, 137 

Movielink, 149 

MP3, 203 

MP3.c0m, 34, 148 

MTV, 219 

Murdoch, Rupert, 15 

music, 28, 140-143, 145-150, 155-156, 158 
remix in, 159 

My Morning Jacket, 166 

MySQL, 39 

Myth of Digital Democracy, The (Hind- 
man), 267 

mythology, 225 

Napster, 33-36, 39, 42, 205, 209 
NASA, 21 
NavTeq, 43 
NBC, 79 
Negri, Toni, 265 
neolibralism, 264-269 
Netflix, 137, 140-143, 149-150 
Netscape, 33-35, 39, 40, 50 
Network Solutions, 42 
networks, 5, 45, 59, 120, 146 

and copies, 161, 164-165 

infrastructure, 39, 139 

network effects, 36-37 
New Line Cinema, 174-175 

About the Contributors 


New York Times, 137, 211, 220, 231-232 

Newsweek, 79, 56 

Nickelodeon, 218 

Nine Inch Nails, 166 

Nissenbaum, Helen, 77 

NNTP (Network News Protocol), 41 

No Doubt, 149 

nonfungible, 183 

NPR (National Public Radio), 211 

Nussbaum, Martha, 112 

NYU (New York University), 262 

Interactive Telecommunications Pro- 
gram, 194, 238 

library, 260 

O'Brien, Sebastian, 218 

O'Reilly Media, 33 

O'Reilly, Tim, 2-5, 237 

Obama, Barack, 159-160 

Ofoto, 34 

Open Humanities Press (OHP), 271 

Oink, 65 

Olmstead, Roy, 156 

Olmstead v. the United States, 156 

online video 

copyright in, 170-176 

remix in, 159-160 
open-access (OA), 258-262 
open licenses. See Creative Commons; GPL 
open source. See FLOSS 
Open Web, the, 120 
operaismo movement, 258, 268 
Oracle, 39 

organized crime, 157 
Orkut, 49 
Outing, Steve, 83 
outsourcing, 247. See also labor 
overshare, 72 
Overture, 36 

Pareto, Alfredo, 140 
Pareto's Principle, 140 
Parsons (The New School for Design), 190 
participation, 8, 36, 48, 156, 166, 204, 222-225, 
237, 238, 242-244. See also collaboration 

party lines, 103 

patent law, 184. See also copyright 

PayPal, 44 

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), 143 

Peachpit Press, 194 

Pearson, 194 

pedagogy, 193 

peer-review, 258, 263-264 

peer-to-peer (p2p), 36, 65, 161, 165, 252, 266 

peer production, 2, 3, 7, 27, 28, 63-66, 
181-182, 184, 189, 238. See also labor 

Peirano, Marta, 5 

the people formerly known as the audi- 
ence, 13-15, 77, 80-81 

permalink, 40 

Peretti, Jonah, 189, 191-192 

Perl, 39, 45 

Peters, John Durham, 88 

Pfizer, 184 

Phiber optik 100, 108 

phonographs, 155 

Photoshop, 110, 212 

PHP, 39, 45 

Phrack, 100, 107-108, 111 

phreaking, 6, 101, 102-105 

physical computing, 188-190 

Picasa, 166 

Pink (musician), 149 

piracy, 165, 167. See also copyright 
war of prohibition on, 161 

podcast, 13, 80 

Politiburo, 167 

politics, 6, 101, 115, 159. See also democratic 

Powazek, Derek, 2, 3 

Powderly, James, 189-190, 191-192 

power law, 8, 141, 263 

print-on-demand, 257 

privacy, 44, 71, 75, 158, 161-163 

Probot Productions, 218 

Processing, 194 

Prohibition. See abolition 

Project Bamboo, 272 

proprietary software, 24-30, 44 

Proust, Marcel, 157 

Provos, Niels, 100 


About the Contributors 

public-relations (PR), 245, 246 
publishing, 8, 83, 137-150 

book, 137, 193 

online booksellers, 137 

open publishing, 83 

university presses, 257-265, 270-271 
Purdie, Bernard "Pretty," 56 
Python, 39, 45 

R.R. Bowker, 43 

Rademacher, Paul, 43 

RAE (Research Assessment Exercise), 262 

radio, 243 

Radiohead, 166 

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 217 

Random House, 137 

Raymond, Eric, 38, 188 

read/write culture, 156 

ReadyMade, 191 

RealNetworks, 141 

ReCaptcha, 62 

recommendations, 137 

record label, 148 

Recording Industry Association of 

America (RIAA), 140 
Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur 

Film (Zimmerman), 212 
remix, 47, 56-57, 158-160,174, 180, 185, 

189-191, 197, 260, 266 

copyright law in, 165-166 
Remix (Lessig), 8, 161, 163 
Republica, La, 211 

REST (Representational State Transfer), 46 
retroreflective vinyl, 196 
Rhapsody, 137, 141, 142-143, 146, 148-150 
Rice University's Connexions, 260 
Ritchie, Lionel, 160 

rival goods, 17-18, 243. See also economics 
Roberts, Drew, 180-181 
Robertson, Michael, 148 
Rosen, Jay, 2, 3, 5, 80, 89 
Rosenbaum, Ron, 103 
Rosenblatt, Richard, 89 
Ross, Andrew, 259, 269 
Ross, Diana, 160 
Rossiter, Ned, 59 

Roth, Daniel, 84, 92 

Roth, Evan, 189-192 

Rowling, J. K., 175 

RSS (Really Simple Syndication), 40-41, 

Rubio, Kevin, 204 
Ruby, 45 

St. Francis, 88 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 90, 50 

sampling. See Remix 

SAP, 39 

scholarly productivity, assessment of, 262. 

See also surveillance 
Schroeder, Hassan, 45 
Schudson, Michael, 86 
scripting languages, 45. See also computer 

programming; web services 
Scrubs, 239 

search engine, 84. See also Google 
Second Life, 110, 164, 232 
"Secrets of the Little Blue Box," 103 
Seed, 84 
Selector, 149 

Selfish Gene, The (Dawkins), 120 
SEO (search engine optimization), 34, 57 
"September That Never Ended," 113 
SETI@home, 17, 21, 63, 163 
Shakespeare, William, 115, 157 
Shakespeare in Love, 210 
sharing, 5, 163, 179-181, 187, 195. See also 


versus collaboration, 53 
Shirky, Clay, 5, 8, 243, 244, 252, 253 
Simpson, Jo, 137 
sitcom, 236-237 
Smith, Dana, 214 
Smith, Mark, 164 
Skrenta, Rich, 40 
Slashdot, 3, 63 

SOAP (Social Object Access Protocol), 46 
social contract, 55-56, 66. See also politics 
social media. See media 
Social Text, 271 
Soderberg, Johan, 160 

About the Contributors 


software. See computer programming 

Soulja Boy, 159 

source code, 25. See also computer pro- 
gramming; FLOSS 

Sousa, John Philip, 155, 159 

spam, 38 

Spears, Britney, 149-150 

Spielberg, Steven, 215 

Spoon, 166 

SQL (Standard Query Language), 42 

Squire, Kurt, 229-230 

Stalder, Felix, 5, 8 

Stallman, Richard, 26, 100, 178, 181, 182, 
188, 246 

Star Trek, 222 

Star Wars (fan culture), 8, 203-233 

Star Wars (films and characters), 166, 

Star Wars Galaxies (video game), 227-228, 

Stein, Danny, 148 

Steinkuehler, Constance, 229-230 

Sterling, Bruce, 110, 112 

Studio Foundation, 193 

Stutz, Dave, 48 

subculture, 6, 101, 106-109 

Sun Microsystems, 45 

Sundance Film Festival, 143, 144 

Super-8, 159, 213, 215 

Supreme Court, 156, 161 

Surowiecki, James, 41 

surveillance, 8, 108, 156, 250-253, 262 

Sxip, 44 

syndication. See RSS 

Taft, Chief Justice, 156 

tagging, 34, 38, 54. See also folksonomy 

TAP (Technical Assistance Program), 

Tarka, Sissu, 5 
Tarnation, 159 
Taub, David, 56 
Taylor, Astra, 5 
technology, 72-73, 243 

changes in, 156- 160 

critiques of, 73, 265-269 

techno-utopia, 3, 178, 180, 182-186, 

television, 236-237 
terms of service, 166, 203, 212 
Thievery Corporation, 166 
Thomas, Douglas, 107 
Thompson, Dennis, 90-91 
Thompson, Mark, 14 
"ThruYou-Kutiman Mixes YouTube," 

Time, 79 
TiVo, 48, 205 
Tolkien, J. R. R., 174, 175 
Toner, Alan, 5 
Torrone, Phil, 190, 196 
Torvalds, Linus, 27, 100, 181-184 
Touching the Void (Simpson), 137 
Tower Records, 138, 142 
Toys "R" Us, 46 
Triplets of Belleville, The, 138 
trolls, 6, 110-116 
Turow, Joseph, 78 
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 

Twitter, 71, 73, 80 

ubiquitous computing, 48, 71-76. See also 

mobile computing 
United States Congress, 155 
university library budgets, 260 
University of California, 260 
University of Michigan 

Libraries, 257 

Press, 8, 257, 263 

Scholarly Publishing Office, 271 
UNIX, 182 

UNIX Terrorist, 100-102, 107, 114, 34 
Urban Outfitters, 192-193 
Urban Dictionary, 100, 122 
Usenet, 41, 114 
user generated content, 2, 53, jj, 227-230. 

See also labor 
Userland, 40 
USSR, failure of, 167 


About the Contributors 

Vaidhyanathan, Siva, 5 

Valenti, Jack, 158, 161, 165 

VandenBerghe, Jason, 217 

Vann-Adibe, Robbie, 140-141 

Varian, Hal, 42 

VCR, 214 

Vectors, 261 

Verisign, 42 

version control system, 53-54 

vernacular culture, 204, 225-226 

Via Campesina, La, 269 

Viacom, 173, 221 

video, 159-160, 170-176 

videogames, 145 

Vimeo, 64, 188, 190 

Viola (browser), 49 

viral licensing. See copyleft 

viral marketing, 38. See also advertising 

Virginia- Pilot, 90 

Virno, Paolo, 265 

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), 50 

von Lohmann, Fred, 6, 7 

"Vote Different," 174 

Wallerstein, Immanuel, 265 

Walker, Rob, 111 

War Games, 105-106 

Ward, Jim, 220 

Warner Brothers, 175 

Warner Music Group, 253 

Watergate, 78, 82 

Wattenberg, Martin, 237 

Web 2.0, 3-4, 6, 32-51, jj, 248, 250, 252 

critiques of, 139-150, 242-254 
Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator, 4 
web application. See web services 
web design, 4, 32-51 
web services, 33- 36, 44, 46, 48, 50, 51, 53. 

See also computer programming 
Weber, Max, 78 
Weems v. United States, 156 
Wei, Pei, 49 
Wellner, Damon, 218 
"What Is an Author?" 130 
What Would Google Do?, 4 
White Album, 159 

White House, 76 

wiki, 34, 44, 50, 53, 65, 194-195. 238, 244 

Wikipedia, 3, 8, 29, 34, 38, 53-56, 64, 71-72, 

100, 122, 130, 158, 163, 166, 184, 187, 237, 

239, 246, 250, 254, 266 
Wilkinson, Jamie, 190 
Williams, Dianne, 224 
Williams, John, 216 
Winer, Dave, 15, 40 
Wired, 84, 211, 215, 246 
wireless spectrum, 22. See also networks 
wiretap, 156. See also surveillance 
wisdom of crowds, 5, 41. See also labor 
Wishnow, Jason, 203 
Wissoker, Ken, 262-263 
Witchita-Eagle, 82 
WordPress, 187 
World of Warcraft, 231, 239 
World Social Forum, 267 
World Trade Organization, 82, 266 
Wozniak, Steve, 103 
WWF, 219 

Xanadu, 41 
XML, 46, 49 

Yahoo!, 36, 42, 44, 49, 137, 163, 166, 249 

Yelp, 163-164 

Yeltsin, Boris, 167 

"Yes We Can" (video), 159 

YIPL (Youth International Party Line), 

Yippies (Youth International Party), 101, 

Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, 215 
youth culture, 71-76 
YouTube, 2, 3, 7, 56, 130, 159, 170, 173, 174, 

190, 244, 245, 253 

YouTube's Content ID, 253 

ZDNet, 45 

Zer-Aviv, Mushon, 5 

zine, 107 

Zelizer, Barbie, 79-80 

Zimmerman, Patrica R., 212-213 

Zittrain, Jonathan, 120, 132 

About the Contributors 289